RUNC: Jasmine King

Jasmine King reprograms cells to treat brain cancer.

Jasmine Kingphoto by Megan Mendenhall
April 10th, 2024

Jasmine King is a postdoctoral researcher in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. She develops innovative and novel drug-delivery platforms to treat cancer.

Q: How did you discover your specific field of study?

A: When I was around 15-16 years old, I would accompany my grandmother to the infusion clinic for her chemotherapy regimen for breast cancer. Visit after visit, I would watch her and other individuals receive their treatment. I noticed that my grandmother wasn’t the only individual that was 1.) drained from the multiple infusion visits and 2.) drastically changed physically from the multiple cycles of chemotherapy.

One day, I decided that I needed to know more and thought that there had to be a safer approach for delivering these therapies. During one of my grandmother’s visits to her oncologist, I blatantly asked him: “Why haven’t you discovered a safer drug or a new way to deliver the existing drugs?” He proceeded to tell me more about his area of expertise and explained that researchers in the field of pharmaceutical sciences design and create novel approaches to improve delivery of drugs. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to pursue a professional career in pharmaceutical sciences or a pharmacy-related field.

Q: Academics are problem-solvers. Describe a research challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.

A: During my PhD, I helped develop an innovative, injectable hydrogel technology to deliver cells for various diseases, and I was specifically focused on brain cancer. To determine how well the cells will persist in the hydrogel after implantation into the brain, I tracked the cell signal over time in mice. To my surprise, I couldn’t detect any viable cells.

Did all the cells clear from the brain in 24 hours? Was there an issue with the implantation technique? And then a sounder explanation hit me: The long injection time could cause the cells to die, and I may need to adjust my imaging parameters to ensure I’m capturing the signal at peak time. I designed a few experiments to test the hypotheses and develop better formulation preparation and imaging parameters for all the in vivo studies for this project.

Q: Describe your research in five words.

A: Reprogramming cells to weather brain-storms.

Q: Who or what inspires you? Why?

A: My daughter, Jordyn. I’m a first-generation underrepresented minority and the only person in my family who has obtained a doctoral degree. It is my mission and purpose to re-present the image of a scientist. My daughter inspires me to be the change I want to see in STEM-related fields and, particularly, the academic sector. She inspires me to do the work to become a great leader, advocate, and mentor for young Black and brown girls who aspire to pursue STEM-related degrees and research.

In addition to this, I also instruct local government practitioners in North Carolina. Their unwavering commitment to public service, even under challenging circumstances such as the recent pandemic, never ceases to amaze me.

Q: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be and why?

A: Medicine. To me, the best researchers are clinician-scientists. As a pharmacist, I somewhat fit into this category, but I’m not at the forefront of the medical problem. My goal is to create translational drug delivery technologies that can be implemented into clinical practice. If I could obtain a medical degree and offer 25% effort to treating patients in the clinic, I could be very impactful on the bench to create innovative technologies and devices to improve the quality of care not only for my patients but globally.

Research UNCovered delves into the lives of UNC-Chapel Hill researchers from all disciplines and career levels, showcasing not only their research prowess but personal experiences in academia and beyond.