Research to Advance Cancer Targeting
Bao Quang Gia Le ‘23
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
What drew you to this field of study?
Growing up in a family of scientists, I was introduced to the wonders of science at a very young age. Witnessing how my family members' research has improved lives and the world had a profound impact on me. I took my first chemistry class in middle school back in Vietnam, and I realized my passion for the subject. I knew then that I wanted to become a chemistry professor, and my love for the subject has only grown deeper over time.
How do you conduct your research?
For the past two years, I have been a member of Professor Michelle Farkas's lab in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. During this time, I have had the opportunity to work on two interrelated research projects that seek to improve targeted delivery of cancer drugs.
In the first project, I focused on synthesizing a library of molecules for cell surface modification, which could react with and bind to macrophages and stem cells and act as active drug delivery vehicles to specific disease sites within the body. More recently, I have been working on attaching these molecules to macrophages and evaluating their effectiveness in vitro. By testing different combinations of molecules and cells, we aim to identify the most effective strategies for targeted imaging and drug delivery in cancer treatment.
What do you see as the impact—or potential impact—of your work?
Conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy are delivered passively, meaning that drugs are distributed throughout the body. This approach often leads to side effects, as healthy cells in internal organs and bone marrow are also affected by the treatment.
Our research aims to enable a new generation of active delivery agents that can precisely and selectively deliver imaging tools and drugs to disease sites while minimizing harm to healthy tissues. We hope to identify strategies for more effective, precise cancer treatments with fewer side effects.
Our work is part of a larger effort to revolutionize cancer therapy and improve patient outcomes, and I am proud to contribute to this important mission.
How does your faculty mentor support your research?
Professor Farkas has been a guiding force in my academic and professional development. She is deeply committed to her students and genuinely cares about our success, both in the lab and beyond. In our research, we face a multitude of challenges, but Professor Farkas's hands-on approach and expert guidance help us overcome obstacles and keep moving forward. Professor Farkas also has been a valuable resource in navigating the complexities of graduate school applications and providing career guidance. Her encouragement and belief in me have been instrumental in shaping my academic and professional aspirations.
Nothing excites me more than the thrill of discovery through research and knowing that my finding might one day benefit others. It is a feeling that keeps me motivated even during the most challenging moments.
What do you find most exciting about conducting research?
Nothing excites me more than the thrill of discovery through research and knowing that my finding might one day benefit others. It is a feeling that keeps me motivated even during the most challenging moments. I also love the fact that there are always multiple ways to approach a problem in research, and enjoy the creative process of finding new solutions. I was personally exposed to different approaches to developing targeted delivery of cancer drugs through my work in the Farkas Lab, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Vietnam National University. Working in diverse research environments has expanded my understanding of scientific methodologies and techniques and has taught me the value of collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking.
What are you most proud of?
Working on research that has the potential to improve cancer treatment has been a tremendous opportunity for me, and I feel fortunate to have contributed to this important goal. This experience has been both intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding. Throughout my research journey with different labs and projects, I am glad to have been able to contribute as an author on seven peer-reviewed journal articles and to have had the opportunity to present my work at three poster presentations. Also, the ability to collaborate with many talented researchers has been an incredible privilege for me.
How has your research enhanced your overall educational experience at UMass?
The farther I progress in my academic career, the more I am aware of the interdependence between research and classroom learning. In my chemistry classes, I learned the fundamentals of chemical reactions and their mechanisms, but it was only when I started applying this knowledge in my research that I truly understood how these reactions operate in the real world. I find it fascinating to see how the concepts and theories I learn in class have practical applications in the lab, and vice versa.
What are your plans for the future?
My experience at UMass has inspired me to pursue research as a career and obtain a PhD in chemistry. Next year, I will begin graduate school in the PhD program in chemistry at Emory University.
Why would you recommend UMass to a friend?
UMass has provided me with incredible research opportunities, and I am grateful for the faculty's support in pursuing my interests. What I find particularly striking about UMass is the friendly and collaborative atmosphere, which fosters a supportive academic environment. One of my most memorable experiences was the Chemistry Department’s Undergraduate Poster Session last year. The whole Farkas Lab group came out to support me—I was overwhelmed by their presence. This boosted my confidence and made me feel a great sense of belonging.