Mingnan Chen portrait
  • Member, Nano Institute of Utah
  • Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Associate Professor, Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Member, Huntsman Cancer Institute

Research Statement

Dr. Chen’s research addresses several challenges at the interface of immunology, material science, pharmaceutical science, and cancer therapeutics development.

To modulate the immunogenicity of functional peptide materials: The immunogenicity of peptide materials impacts many of their biomedical applications. We are interested in understanding the interplay between exogenous polypeptides and the host immune system so that we are able to tailor the immunogenicity of the polypeptide materials as desired. Our goal is to offer insights on how to generate peptide materials that have both an appealing function and an immunogenicity that supports the function.

To revitalize host anti-tumor immunity: Throughout tumorigenesis, tumor cells and tissues evolve to overcome and dampen host immunity. However, anti-tumor immunity can be revitalized and the tumor’s dominance reversed by immunotherapies such as vaccination and immune checkpoint blockade. These therapies have achieved some clinical successes in melanoma, prostate cancer, and cervical cancer.  In order to broaden their successes in a wider range of cancer, we are integrating drug delivery principles and our immune-tolerant elastin-like polypeptide (iTEP) nanoparticles together to create drug carriers that would improve the efficacy of these therapies.

To stop metastasis: Given cancer stem cells’ critical role during tumorigenesis and metastasis, a reduction in their numbers could lead to a significant inhibition of metastasis. To this end, we are leveraging these cells’ unique physiological and pathological characteristics to devise iTEP-based carriers that target cancer stem cell-specific drugs to these cells, boosting the drug’s effectiveness and inhibiting metastasis.

Research Keywords

  • Vaccine
  • Recombinant polypeptide materials
  • Metastasis
  • Drug Delivery
  • Cancer Immunotherapy


  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Pharmacology Seminar, September 30, 2014. Title: A “Bilingual” biomaterial that energizes vaccine and cancer stem cell-targeted therapy. Invited Talk/Keynote, Presented, 09/30/2014.
  • Virus-Like Particle and Nano-Particle Vaccines 2014, June 4, 2014. San Diego, CA. Title: Immune-tolerant elastin-like polypeptide (iTEP) nanoparticles promote peptide vaccine presentation by dendritic cells. Presentation, Presented, 06/04/2014.
  • The Annual NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer Investigators’ Meeting, November 16, 2012 in Houston, TX. Title: Engineering nanocarriers that target metastasis-initiating Cells . Invited Talk/Keynote, Presented, 11/16/2012.
  • Engineering elastin-like polypeptide carriers for cancer chemotherapeutics and peptide vaccines . Invited Talk/Keynote, Presented, 09/10/2012.

Research Groups

  • Andrew Ramstead, Postdoc. 10/2014 - present.
  • Scott Cho, Postdoc. 03/25/2012 - 05/2013.
  • Shuyun Dong, Research Professor. 01/01/2012 - present.

Research Equipment and Testing Expertise

  • Preparative HPLC . Contact: Mingnan Chen , 581-7616 , Skaggs Pharmacy Institute.


  • Chinese, fluent.
  • English, fluent.


  • Zhan, J, Kale, V, and Chen, M. (2014) Gene Directed Enzyme Prodrug Therapy. AAPS Journal. (Accepted) DOI:10.1208/s12248-014-9675-7. Accepted, 10/2014.
  • Zhao, P., Dong, S., Bhattacharyya, J., and Chen, M. (2014) iTEP Nanoparticle-Delivered Salinomycin Displays an Enhanced Toxicity to Cancer Stem Cells in Orthotopic Breast Tumors. Mol Pharm. 11:1703-1712 (A Drug Delivery and Reversal of MDR speical issue) DOI: 10.1021/mp5002312. Published, 08/2014.
  • Chen, M., McDaniel, J.R., MacKay, J.A., and Chilkoti, A. (2011) Nanoscale self-assembly in delivery of diagnostic or therapeutic agents. Technology and Innovation - Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors 13:5-25. Published, 01/01/2011.
  • MacKay, J.A.*, Chen, M.*, Liu, W., McDaniel, J., Simnick, A., and Chilkoti, A. (2009) Self-assembling chimeric polypeptide-doxorubicin conjugate nanoparticles that abolish tumors after a single injection. Nature Materials 8: 993-999 (*Equal contributions as the first authors). Published, 11/01/2009.
  • Chen, M. and Bouvier, M. (2007) Analysis of interactions in a tapasin/class I complex provides a mechanism for peptide selection. EMBO Journal 26: 1681-1690. Published, 03/01/2007.