For many, the prospect of a coming delivery is exciting. But for Benjamin Umlauf, Ph.D., it’s not what’s in the package that holds his interest; it’s the how — the delivery method itself. And patients with brain conditions may soon benefit from his perspective.
Umlauf, an assistant professor in Dell Medical School’s Department of Neurosurgery and faculty of the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, leads a research team dedicated to improving drug delivery methods for brain diseases by optimizing the amount of a therapeutic drug that accumulates in the brain and solid tumors, ultimately helping patients heal sooner — and feel better during the process.
Why is the delivery method of a drug important, and what does this mean for patient care?
Despite its importance, delivery is often overlooked when developing a drug. Like humans, cells seem to appreciate a hand-delivered package; this enhances patient care by augmenting the efficacy of drugs and reducing side effects of treatments. Many drugs have harsh side effects — which could be averted by increased drug specificity — that lead to poor compliance.
In addition, many drugs that can help patients have already been discovered, but these compounds fail to gain wide acceptance due to complications that arise from off-target effects or difficult administration regimens. Enhancing delivery of an already approved drug can help patients significantly quicker than the lengthy process of bringing a novel therapeutic to market. If we want to help people today, enhancing drug delivery to increase efficacy while simultaneously reducing adverse effects is the right approach.
How have your experiences impacted your research, and what do they mean to you?
The motto of Mayo Clinic, where I had my first research job, is “the needs of the patient come first.” It has colored every step I’ve taken in my lab. Our work in drug delivery is designed to improve both patient outcomes and quality of life by reducing side effects that plague treatments.
My lab is currently focused on the way fluid moves in the brain: Can we alter the movement of fluid in the brain slightly to increase the amount of a drug available to treat brain diseases? By working toward this goal, instead of studying a single disease, we can take a multidisciplinary approach within our group to streamline the process of drug discovery.
My work inspires me to be curious and creative, as these qualities are a powerful combination when paired with hard work.