Purdue Profiles: Yoon Yeo

January 27, 2015  

Yoon Yeo

Yoon Yeo, associate professor of industrial and physical pharmacy. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
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For Yoon Yeo, there is a world of treatment possibilities inside existing pharmaceutical drugs, and they can be unlocked through the study and creation of novel drug delivery systems.

Yeo, who is associate professor of industrial and physical pharmacy, devotes herself to finding new drug delivery systems and teaching students to do the same. She supervises a lab that bears her name and is involved in ongoing research that could help improve therapies for devastating diseases such as cancer and cystic fibrosis.

Could you explain more about your teaching and your lab?

I primarily teach a class called Dosage Forms II, which is a second-semester class for first-year students in Purdue's pharmacy doctoral program. In this class, I teach students that drugs can have different effects depending on their method of delivery.

For instance, drugs can be delivered in forms such as solution, suspension, ointment, transdermal patch or injection. Using these different systems, depending on the situation, we can, for instance, make drugs reach certain tissue, such as tumors, more effectively, and/or protect drugs from destructive environments until they are delivered to the desired location in the body.

In the Yeo Lab, students research new delivery systems. We focus on loading drugs in nanoparticles and modifying the surface to make them interact with certain types of diseases. We also look at different ways to use biomaterials, meaning that we look for different ways to package drugs to achieve a desired result.

Right now, there are six graduate students, three postdoctoral researchers, and six undergraduate students working in the Yeo Lab.

What are some examples of your ongoing research projects?

One project, for which we've recently received grant support from the National Institutes of Health, involves engineering pharmaceutical nanoparticles to make them behave a certain way according to their environment. More specifically, because some tumors are more acidic than surrounding tissues, we've developed nanoparticles that are stickier when exposed to an acidic pH. When the drug reaches a tumor, it becomes stuck inside it and therefore is more effective at treating it.

We've seen a lot of evidence in cell models that this will work as we theorize. The grant we recently received will support testing the nanoparticles in animal models under the effect of radiation to further test this technique.

Another ongoing project involves creating an inhalation drug delivery system that helps treat cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis causes patients to develop sticky mucus in their lungs, and that mucus prevents drugs from penetrating the underlying tissues.

The drug delivery system we're developing involves the co-delivery of two agents: one that weakens the mucus, and another that treats the disease. We're also working on a gene therapy that would work via a similar delivery system.

There are still some challenges to overcome, but I'm optimistic that this therapy could advance and, hopefully, eventually become viable in clinical settings. In fact, it's my professional goal to eventually advance a drug delivery system to the point where it can make a real difference in the lives of people suffering from devastating diseases.

Are you involved in any upcoming professional events?

I'm proud and honored to say that I'm serving as chair of the 12th Garnet E. Peck Symposium in Industrial Pharmacy, which will be held in West Lafayette on Feb. 26-27. I've invited the speakers and helped organize their talks, and I'll oversee the event.

It's particularly exciting for me because the speakers are all world-class experts in our field. These are people I've respected and admired for my entire career, so I'm excited to meet them in person. Plus, during the symposium we'll be honoring my former teachers. It will be a very meaningful experience.

How did you become interested in developing drug delivery systems?

After I completed my undergraduate and master's degrees in Korea, I worked for a company there that specialized in creating drug delivery systems. My academic background had been in creating antibiotics, but working there made me realize something: Discovering new drugs is one thing, but having novel and varied drug delivery systems is just as important. I wanted to do more research about drug delivery, so I decided to pursue a doctorate.

At the time, drug delivery research was more active in the U.S. Purdue has a great reputation in pharmacy, and Dr. Kinam Park -- who is the Showalter Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering and professor of pharmaceutics -- is a leader in the field.

I decided to apply to Purdue and was accepted. After I finished my degree and worked as a postdoctoral associate at MIT, I was offered a faculty position at Purdue, and I was delighted to accept. Purdue has been so supportive of me, first as a student and now as a faculty member, particularly when I was starting my lab. I feel very indebted to the University for helping me advance my education and my career. 

Writer: Amanda Hamon Kunz, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu 

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