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Pharmaceutical journal features research by professor, student

Dr. Xi Jinxiang and China, senior Yu Zang pose with some of Dr. Xi's casts that are revolutionary for the medical field and his published journal, outside the Engineering and Technology Building, Sep. 20, 2016.

A nose for science and an interest in nasal spray medication landed a Central Michigan University professor and student on the cover of a journal published by the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists.

Jinxiang Xi, a faculty member of the College of Science and Engineering, and Shang Hai senior Yu Zhang focused on studying nose-to-brain drug delivery. The two were hoping to dramatically change the medical field by developing direct ways to deliver drugs to the brain for neurological disorder treatment. Xi said he hopes this will be used to change the market for the next generation of neurological medications, shifting treatments toward nasal delivery systems.

Xi and Zhang were featured on the cover of the June 2016 edition of “Pharmaceutical Research,” a predominant research journal of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists.

College of Science and Technology Dean Ian Davison said CMU is exceptional at including undergraduate students in research. Xi’s lab demonstrates the sentiment.

Zhang has been working with Xi for two years, and has had his work published in three publications since working under Xi. This is a rare achievement for an undergraduate student, Xi said.

“It has been a very good position to be working with Dr. Xi,” Zhang said.

Zhang has dedicated numerous hours toward this research. He is often tasked with data analysis, running computer simulations and conducting experiments.

“I’ve had times where I’ve had to work all night for these projects,” he said. “Sometimes I want to get data done, and I can’t leave it all night or I would have to start it all over, so I work overnight to analyze.”

Zhang said he does not mind the hours because he feels fulfilled by problem solving.

How sprays work

Treatment for neurological disorders such as depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and HIV is administered through injection or oral intake. Delivering medications through the nasal cavity, however, would make treatment more efficient and less expensive.

Xi explained medication reaches the brain through blood circulation. This can be a difficult task because the brain has a structural defense called the blood brain barrier. This barrier helps the brain separate toxic chemicals in the bloodstream out and keep them from reaching the brain.As a result, many medications are also rejected in the process.

Only 2 percent of a drug administered this way can make it past the blood brain barrier, Xi said. This is very wasteful and expensive considering the high price of most neurological medications.

The olfactory region, part of the sensory system responsible for sense of smell, contains nerves that directly connect to the brain, bypassing blood brain barrier filtering.

“Finding a technique to more efficiently deliver medications can have massive economic impact,” Xi said. “If we deliver drugs to here, the drugs can follow the passageway of the nerves and get into the brain.”

At this point, only certain treatments for migraines use the nasal cavity as a drug delivery method, Xi said. He believes his research will open the door to expand the method to treatment for other disorders.

The purpose of Dr. Xi’s research, stated in his article “Visualization and Quantification of Nasal and Olfactory Deposition in a Sectional Adult Nasal Airway Cast,” was to compare drug deposition, or where the medication is reaching in the nose and olfactory region, between different delivery devices. Xi specifically looked at nose sprays and nebulizers.

He also compared different techniques when using these devices by studying deposition patterns based on specific placement of drug administration within the nose.

Visualizing Research

Xi’s goal was to create a clear visualization of these drug deposition patterns. He did this by using a “Sar-Gel based colorimetry method,” meaning he used color to measure deposit patterns.

Davison said research journals often choose research projects with aesthetic appeal to feature on journal covers. The Sar-Gel used in Xi’s work made his project visually stunning.

Sar-Gel is a tool traditionally used by plumbers to follow water and find potential leakages, Xi said. This works, because when the gel is combined with water, the water turns a florescent, hot pink color.

Xi used water with Sar-Gel as an experimental technique to demonstrate exactly where drug particles were being deposited, when administered with different devices at different places. As a result, the images captured during research were vibrant.

In addition to attractiveness, Xi said research journals also select cover stories representing exciting developments in the field, which applies to his study.

Xi said many studies have tried to create this visualization before, but have been unsuccessful.

“We are the first group to directly show internal deposition patterns of the nasal cavity,” he said.

Xi’s success in visualization can be attributed to the detailed nasal cavity models he created for research, which he described to be some of the best models available.

By using MRI data, he was able to build the nasal airway inside the nose and print models of the system using a 3D printer.

“Building a nasal cavity model is not an easy job,” Xi said. “We overcame this because we are more than engineers. We are artists.”

Xi explained the nasal cavity is a complex structure, with many layers. The nasal structure needs to be complex because it is responsible for filtering out the toxic particles inhaled on a daily basis from the air.

A single model takes three months to complete, Xi said. The process is difficult because of how the model must be built, patching together pieces of the cavities in small sections to create the larger cast.

Because the nasal cavity is excellent at filtering out toxic particles, and because researchers have had difficulty visualizing how medication is deposited in the nose, it has been difficult to develop neurological medications working through the olfactory region.

In his research results regarding nasal spray devices, Xi was able to vividly demonstrate that the devices are ineffective.

“We are the first group to show how clearly it is not feasible for nasal spray to deliver drugs to the olfactory region,” he said.

This is why Xi believes his work towards creating medication deposit visualization will change the field. He found nebulizers are much more effective for drug delivery because deposit relies more on natural breathing airflow.