Pheatured Scientist | 007


Phuture Dr. Isom Kelly


I think I can. I think I can. I think I can! Wow, I did it! 

Isom discovered thinking you can is 50% of what it takes to be successful--for him at least. 

     A first-generation college student from Little Rock, AR, Isom Kelly has endured several hardships growing up. From his home being destroyed by a deadly tornado in 1999, to witnessing his older sister battle cancer at the age of 17, he acknowledges these hardships as his primary motivators for reaching the heights he has to date. Of these mentioned hardships, seeing his sister battle cancer was his primary motive in pursuing research in the field of chemistry. At the age of 14, Isom realized that although the chemotherapy was saving his sister's life, it made her feel terrible. After watching his sister fight, he knew he wanted to make a change to drug delivery processes for cancer. So he buckled down in high school, made the grades, and attended Huston-Tillotson University on a Navy ROTC scholarship. 
    HT is a small HBCU with an enrollment floating between 1,000-2,000 students at any given time. Although the university lacked the resources for him to engage in meaningful and impactful research, it established a solid foundation in which he continues to build upon. His first research opportunity came in the form of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD program. Almost serendipitously, the program placed him in a lab that put him in a perfect position to pursue his dreams of studying and understanding drug delivery specific to cancer.
    At Fisk University, he worked with Dr. Natalie Arnett, a polymer chemist by trade, with an expertise in developing polymers for fuel cell technologies. However, in years before Isom’s arrival, she had entered the tissue engineering and drug delivery domain to increase the skill diversity of bridge students entering the program. Isom developed a novel elastomeric nanoparticle capable of loading drugs more efficiently than other types of polymer-based nanoparticles but lacked the reproducibility for publications. 
    Isom is now a second-year graduate student in Craig Duvall's research group at Vanderbilt University and is the first in his immediate family to pursue an advanced degree. He currently works on drug-delivery porous silicon nanoparticles capable of loading high amounts of peptide nucleic acid. Due to the particles high internal surface area, he can functionalize the surface of the particles with polymers, small molecules, and aptamers to increase the circulation half-life, drug loading, and delivery efficiency of the nanoparticles to the sites of interest, respectively. 
    When Isom is not hard at work in the lab, he enjoys photography (IG: @urban_shutters), playing his guitar at open mic nights and singing with his band whenever he gets the chance.