Faces of Research: Meet Mark Prausnitz
Jan 05, 2023 — Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is a leader in the field of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Its mission is to create a better future by transforming people, ideas, processes and products through research and innovations that will transform the lives of its students and generate breakthroughs in technology and knowledge.
This installment of the Faces of Research Q&A series is with Mark Prausnitz, Regents' Professor, J. Erskine Love Jr. Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Director of the Center for Drug Design, Development and Delivery.
What is your field of expertise and why did you choose it?
In my lab, we work in the field of pharmaceuticals. We design drug delivery systems to make drugs work better and to make them more accessible to people by simplifying their administration at home, in developing countries, and in emergency situations. The main technology we study is microneedles. We make microneedle patches, which are painlessly applied to the skin to administer drugs and vaccines without the need for hypodermic injections. We also make particles with microneedles sticking out called STAR particles that can be rubbed onto the skin to increase absorption of dermatological drugs and cosmetics. We also work on microneedles for targeted injection into the eye to treat diseases like macular degeneration. I became interested in this work because I can use my training in engineering to solve problems that improve the health of people in the United States and around the world. I also enjoy working in the area of pharmaceuticals because of its interdisciplinary nature, drawing not only from science and engineering, but also from medicine, public health, public policy, and other fields.
What makes Georgia Tech research institutes unique?
I was initially attracted to Georgia Tech, and remain excited about being here, because of the emphasis on interdisciplinary research and collaboration, especially at the interface of engineering and medicine. These days, many research institutions talk about interdisciplinary research, but Georgia Tech has been a leader in this area for decades and had a world-class environment to collaborate across disciplines to do innovative and impactful research. For me, collaboration with Emory University and the CDC are additional critical features of the Georgia Tech research environment.
What impact is your research having on the world?
We had our first product approved by Food and Drug Administration in 2021. It is a microneedle that administers a drug into a part of the eye called the suprachoroidal space to treat inflammation of the eye with reduced side effects as compared to conventional treatments. We also have studied microneedle patches in a number of clinical trials, including administration of influenza vaccine and measles and rubella vaccines. I have co-founded eight companies to commercialize the drug delivery systems we have developed at Georgia Tech. Publishing high-quality research and training students are very important to me; moving our technology out of the Institute and into clinical use that helps people is also important.
What is something you wished you knew as a budding researcher that everyone considering research as a career should know?
My graduate mentor advised me that a good researcher knows how to design a study, carry out research, interpret results, and get the answer to a scientific question. But a great researcher knows which scientific question to ask. I think picking the right research questions is the key to doing impactful research.
What is the most challenging aspect of your research?
The most challenging and most important component of my research is the research team. We encounter many technical challenges, but if we have the right people working in the right environment, we can overcome those challenges. I think it is important to recruit smart, enthusiastic, and hard-working graduate students and postdocs, and then create a physical, intellectual, and cultural environment that allow them and their research to thrive.
Favorite show/program to binge watch?
My introduction to binge watching was Breaking Bad, which is ultimately a show about drug delivery (although not the kind that we do, of course!). I like history, so I watch The Crown. I also like mysteries, and am eagerly awaiting the next season of Only Murders in the Building. Currently, I am watching Ted Lasso to wind down after a busy day.
Peralte C. Paul