CLEMSON — A Clemson University assistant professor of bioengineering is on a new national list of top junior faculty researchers who were chosen based on their number of patents.

Frank Alexis

Frank Alexis works in a lab in Clemson University’s Rhodes Engineering Research Center.

Frank Alexis develops new ways of delivering drugs in nanoparticles that are 10,000 times smaller than the cross-section of a human hair. The nanoparticles are so small, they are visible only through the most powerful microscopes.

Alexis has six patents to his credit, the third most on a list of five “top translational junior faculty in 2013,” according to the journal Nature Biotechnology.

“I think there are a lot of great junior faculty that innovate and develop technology, so it’s an honor to be on the list,” he said.

The nanoparticles that Alexis develops deliver drugs directly to the part of the body where they are needed. The technology helps make drugs less toxic, which is especially helpful for cancer patients, he said.

Nanoparticles also help deliver drugs that are not soluble in blood, Alexis said.

“What I find most rewarding in research is solving problems,” he said. “Some of these technologies are now in clinical trials. You have an impact on society.”

Nature Biotechnology is a monthly journal covering the science and business of biotechnology.

“The recognition is great news,” said Martine LaBerge, chair of Clemson’s Bioengineering Department. “It underscores the level of scholarship Dr. Alexis brings to Clemson.”

Alexis likened nanoparticles to tiny M&Ms, except that the insides have drugs instead of chocolate. They can be taken orally, injected or inhaled with a spray, he said. A wide range of drugs could be contained in the particles.

Of his six patents, the technology that excites Alexis most is based on particles that are administered orally.

“Once the particles are inside the intestine, we use a biological mechanism to transport these particles from the intestine to the blood,” Alexis said. “It has a lot of applications — pretty much any chronic disease that regularly requires an IV or intramuscular injections.”

Alexis’ research focuses on a branch of study called “translational research.” The emphasis is on practical research with a high probability that it can be taken from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside.

“Translational research is a cornerstone of our strategic plan,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science. “The work that Dr. Alexis and others are doing creates a high impact on society. I’d like to congratulate him on making the journal’s list.”

The research that Alexis does aims to improve health, one of the great national priorities that Clemson has identified.

“I see a bright future ahead of us,” said Tanju Karanfil, the college’s associate dean for research and graduate studies. “With faculty like Dr. Alexis and strong teamwork, we are poised to have a significant impact and to take Clemson research to the next level.”

Alexis said he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he did the work that led to the patents. He came to Clemson in May 2009 and said he is now working on technologies that could be patented under the university’s umbrella.

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