Department of Chemistry
Joseph DeSimone

Joseph DeSimone

Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry, UNC;
William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, NCSU
Jointly appointed with the School of Medicine & the School of Pharmacy
919-962-5467 (fax)
Caudill 257


Research Interests

Applying lithographic techniques from the computer industry to design of new medicines & vaccines; Nanomedicine; Interventional oncology; Fluoropolymers: batteries, microfluidics, minimally adhesive surfaces; Medical devices; Colloid, surfactant and surface chemistry; Role of diversity in innovation; Entrepreneurship from research-intensive universities; Public and private partnerships.

Professional Background

  •  Member of the Institute of Medicine (2014)
  •  Member of the National Academy of Sciences (2012)
  •  Member of the National Academy of Engineering (2005)
  •  Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2005)
  •  Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (2006)
2014 Industrial Research Institute Medal, 2013 Fellow, National Academy of Inventors; 2012 ACS Fellow; 2012 Walston Chubb Award for Innovation from Sigma Xi; 2011 Mendel Medal from Villanova University; 2011 Harrison Howe Award by the Rochester Section of the American Chemical Society; 2011 PMSE Fellow, Division of Polymeric Material Science and Engineering, American Chemical Society; 2010 Founding POLY Fellow, Division of Polymer Chemistry, American Chemical Society; 2010 AAAS Mentor Award, honoring DeSimone's dedication to advancing diversity in the chemistry PhD workforce; 2009 recipient of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award; 2009 recipient of the North Carolina Award, the highest honor the State of North Carolina can bestow to recognize notable achievements of North Carolinians in the fields of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts and Public Service; 2009 Distinguished Graduate Alumni Achievement Award, Virginia Tech; 2009 Tar Heel of the Year, selected by undergraduates at the school newspaper; 2008 recipient of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize; Named 2008 Tar Heel of the Year by the Raleigh News & Observer; Named one of the "One Hundred Engineers of the Modern Era" by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) marking the 100th Anniversary of the AIChE; Business Leader Magazine "2007/2008 Impact Entrepreneur of the Year for the Triangle"; 2008 Inductee into the Order of the Golden Fleece, the oldest honor society of its kind in the nation (since 1904) and the most prestigious honor society at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; 2007 Collaboration Success Award from The Council for Chemical Research; Elected, College of Fellows, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2006); H.F. Whalen, Jr. 2006 Award for Entrepreneurship by ACS Div. of Business Development & Management; 2005 Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Life Science Spin-out of the Year for Liquidia Technologies; 2005 American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention; 2002 John Scott Award presented by the City Trusts, Philadelphia, given to "the most deserving" men and women whose inventions have contributed in some outstanding way to the "comfort, welfare and happiness" of mankind; 2002 Engineering Excellence Award by DuPont for Successful Commercialization of Supercritical CO2 Polymerization Plant at DuPont Fayetteville Works; 2002 Wallace H. Carothers Award from the Delaware Section of the American Chemical Society to honor scientific innovators who have made outstanding contributions and advances in industrial applications of chemistry; Ernst & Young 2001 Entrepreneur of the Year in Technology (Carolinas); 2001 Inventor of the Year Award from the Triangle Intellectual Property Law Association; 2001 Governor's Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award for Micell Technologies; 2001 Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest to recognize a chemist for outstanding achievement in scientific and technical work that contributes to the public well-being; 2001 Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association; 2000 Oliver Max Garner Award from the University of North Carolina, given to that person, who in the opinion of the Board of Governors' Committee, ". . . during the current scholastic year, has made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race."; Phi Beta Kappa (Tau of Pennsylvania Chapter at Ursinus College); 1999 Fresenius Award of the PHI LAMBDA UPSILON Honorary Chemical Society, presented annually to an outstanding young scientist who has attained national recognition in the areas of research and teaching; Carl S. Marvel Creative Polymer Chemistry Award (1999), presented annually to recognize accomplishments and/or innovation of unusual merit in the field of basic or applied polymer science by younger scientists; Runner-up, 1999 Tarheel of the Year Award (with Elizabeth Dole, Mia Hamm, and Bob Young of Red Hat); Honorary Doctorate of Science from Ursinus College (1999); Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (1998-2001); R&D 100 Award with Micell Technologies (1998); Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (1997) in recognition of outstanding chemical technologies (Surfactants for CO2) that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture, and use Governor's Award for Excellence (1997); Chancellor's Award for Excellence (1997); 1995 Waldo Semon Award Lecturer, The University of Akron; 1995 Charles H. Stone Award; Finalist for the 1995 DISCOVER AWARD FOR TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION; 1993 Presidential Faculty Fellow Award from the National Science Foundation; 1993 Philip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement; 1992 National Science Foundation Young Investigator - Division of Materials Research

Research Synopsis

The recent breakthroughs in the DeSimone laboratories using specifically-designed materials for imprint or soft lithography have enabled an extremely versatile and flexible method for the direct fabrication and harvesting of monodisperse, shape-specific nano-biomaterials. The method, referred to as Particle Replication In Non-wetting Templates, or PRINT, allows for the fabrication of monodisperse particles with simultaneous control over structure (i.e. shape, size, composition) and function (i.e. cargo, surface structure).

Unlike other particle fabrication techniques, PRINT is delicate and general enough to be compatible with a variety of important next-generation cancer therapeutic, detection and imaging agents, including various cargos (e.g. DNA, proteins, chemotherapy drugs, biosensor dyes, radio-markers, contrast agents), targeting ligands (e.g. antibodies, cell targeting peptides) and functional matrix materials (e.g. bioabsorbable polymers, stimuli responsive matrices, etc).

In conjunction with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the DeSimone group is focused on designing and evaluating novel nanomedicines for cancer therapy. PRINT nanoparticles can be fabricated into numerous shapes and sizes including nano-cylinders, nano-rods or long filamentous "worm-like" nanoparticles. The unique control over size and shape leads to a variety of nano-materials that can accumulate in specific tissues or diseased sites. Moreover, once the nanoparticle reaches the desired tissue it can be engineered to release a therapeutic at a specific rate and dosage. Techniques that increase the in vivo circulation, and therefore enhance the delivery of a nanoparticle to a tumor are being explored. For example, the surface of a PRINT nanoparticle can be decorated with "stealth" units, which are known to evade routes of elimination. Additionally, by changing the chemical make-up of the nanoparticle, the group can generate an extremely soft and deformable material capable of passing through small pores that exist in tissues like the liver and spleen.

The ability to simultaneously change the size, shape, surface properties and chemical composition of a nanoparticle is unique to the PRINT process. The manipulation of these physical properties can increase the therapeutic index of a drug, reduce side effects and improve patient compliance.

The DeSimone lab is also investigating various routes of administration for PRINT particles. Improved drug delivery to the lung through inhalation represents a promising opportunity for the treatment of many pulmonary and systemic diseases. Through control of particle size, shape and composition, PRINT aerosols offer improved dose uniformity of excipient-free aerosols. With this platform, the DeSimone group is exploring the effect of particle shape on powder entrainment and airway deposition, as well as opportunities for the targeting or de-targeting of airway macrophages.

PRINT particles are being pursued to co-deliver antigens and adjuvants as highly effective particulate vaccines for cancer immunotherapy and treatment of infectious diseases. Micro- and nano-sized particles have shown great promise in vaccine development both as carriers and as particulate adjuvants. PRINT particles with biocompatible materials are designed to efficiently adsorb or incorporate antigens (proteins, peptides, or nucleic acids) and various adjuvants (e.g. TLR ligands). Furthermore, tailoring the surface chemistry, size and shape of PRINT particles may greatly help in the targeting of lymphatic systems to achieve desired immune responses in a cost-effective way.

For over a generation, researchers have utilized suspensions of monodisperse colloids as model systems to address questions concerning the assembly and structure of materials. Suspensions comprised of spherical colloids have long been the system of choice in large part because, until recently, the sphere was one of the few shapes that could be synthesized as monodisperse in large quantities. The recent vision that anisotropically shaped colloids may lead to an entirely new class of materials has caused a paradigm shift in the field. The advent of PRINT places the DeSimone group at the forefront of the colloidal assembly community with the unique ability to synthesize monodisperse colloids with unparalleled control over their shape, size and composition. The DeSimone group is currently using PRINT particles and leveraging fundamental interactions such as depletion, hydrophilic-hydrophobic, etc. to study new physics, create functional materials and produce new colloidal building blocks en route to next-generation materials.


Edward Samulski, PhD; Joel Tepper, MD; Jen Jen Yeh, MD; Richard Stack, MD; Jim Bear, PhD; Mary Napier, PhD; Jeff Frelinger, PhD; Bolyn Hubby, PhD; Ben Maynor, PhD; Jason Rolland, PhD; Neal Fowler; Bill Zamboni, PhD; Valerie Ashby, PhD