Students with Startups: Encapsulate

UConn Ph.D. candidates Armin Tahmasbi Rad and Leila Daneshmandi teamed up together to create their tissue-on-a-chip technology Encapsulate, which could potentially speed up cancer therapy, reduce the cost of treatment and help to save the lives of cancer patients worldwide. 

Rad and Daneshmandi decided to collaborate on this technology while working on their doctorates in biomedical engineering, since both have become experts in different areas of the field. 

UConn’s very own Ph.D. candidates Tahmasbi and Daneshmandi created a tissue-on-a-chip Encapsulate that can potentially speed up cancer therapy.  Photo taken by Evan Olson/Provided by Daneshmandi

UConn’s very own Ph.D. candidates Tahmasbi and Daneshmandi created a tissue-on-a-chip Encapsulate that can potentially speed up cancer therapy. Photo taken by Evan Olson/Provided by Daneshmandi

“Armin’s been working in the field of drug delivery and cancer therapy for several years and I have expertise in growing tissues and Tissue Engineering,” Daneshmandi and Rad said in an email. “So, we came together and combined our skill sets and knowledge to develop this technology that can grow a patient’s own cancer cells and screen them against chemotherapy drugs.” 

Initially, the pair created their tissue-on-a-chip technology to test how cells react to drug delivery nanocarriers, according to Daneshmandi. It was only after they spoke to different cancer patients and oncologists that they realized there was an unmet need for a way to test which cancer treatment would work best for the individual. With so many FDA-approved chemotherapy drugs available, it can be hard for doctors to choose the one which will cure the patient’s cancer most effectively. For this reason, many patients undergo unnecessary and difficult chemotherapy cycles without being cured. 

Rad and Daneshmandi chose to redesign and repurpose their chip to meet this huge need in oncology because they felt their work would have the most impact there. 

“It’s really about where we can have the most impact,” Daneshmandi said. “Almost everyone has been affected by cancer in some way or the other.” 

In fact, their technology could be used for a number of purposes beyond cancer and may be developed for those purposes in the future. They chose to focus on using it to cure cancer in the meantime, since they believe it will have a greater impact on humanity through oncology. 

“Our technology can also be used by pharmaceutical companies to screen newly developed drugs,” Rad said. “This would expedite the process of new drug production and help save a great deal in costs. It can also be re-purposed for other diseases such as infections.” 

Using Encapsulate, cancer cells can be grown and evaluated with various chemotherapy drugs over the course of two weeks. Ultimately, the pair’s goal is to provide oncologists with the most effective drug prior to a patient beginning chemotherapy so they have the best possible drug from the beginning of treatment. 

Rad and Daneshmandi partnered with the Oncology department at UConn Health to help them conduct their pre-clinical stage, with extensive assistance and advisement from Dr. Omar Ibrahim and Dr. Pramod Srivastava. At this point in time, they are only testing Encapsulate with lung cancer cells, but in the long run, they will expand their testing to other types of cancer cells.  

In the near future, the Encapsulate team will begin conducting their clinical trials on UConn Health patients. And, with luck, we will be hearing about this incredible technology again soon. 


Rebecca Maher is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.l.maher@uconn.edu.