David Needham


Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Professor Needham has been at Duke since 1987 and over the years has developed many collaborative and scholarly relationships across the campus and Medical School. He holds Faculty and membership appointments as: Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Center for Bioinspired Materials and Material Systems; Center for Biomolecular and Tissue Engineering; Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center; and the Duke Cancer Institute.  Internationally, he holds a joint appointment as Professor of Translational Therapeutics in the School of Pharmacy, at the University of Nottingham, UK.  He also collaborates with preclinical researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center, in Rotterdam, NL. 
For the past 35 years Needham's Lab has developed and used a platform technology of micropipette manipulation to manipulate single and pairs of micro bubbles, droplets and particles in order to assess their behavior in well-defined fluids and solution conditions.  Recently his research and development has focused on nucleation, growth and stability of nanoparticles.  Applications of these fundamental particle and interfacial studies have primarily focused on advanced drug delivery treatments for cancer and now COVID19 with a nasal and throat spray prophylactic and early treatment regimen.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute

Contact Information

  • Office Location: 3391 Fciemas Building, Box 90300, Durham, NC 27708
  • Office Phone: (919) 660-5355
  • Email Address: d.needham@duke.edu


  • Ph.D. University of Nottingham (United Kingdom), 1981
  • B.S. Nottingham Trent University (United Kingdom), 1975

Research Interests

Needham’s research and development is nothing if it is not collaborative.

 For the past 35 years Needham's Lab has developed and used a platform technology of micropipette manipulation to manipulate single and pairs of micro particles in order to assess their behavior in well-defined fluids and solution conditions. With these techniques, he brings a wealth of expertise in colloid and interfacial science and engineering evaluating all 3 states of matter and their 5 interfaces, at the microscale, as micro-bubbles, -drops and -particles. Results of these kinds of studies have impacted: bubble technology for ultrasound; Droplet Interface Bilayers (DIBs) in collaboration with the Hagan Bayley lab at the University of Oxford UK; as well as the microglassification of proteins and peptides for storage, transport and use.  This technology is now being developed by his ex-graduate student now CEO and Founder of Lindy Biosciences, Deborah Bitterfield PhD. Other industrial collaborations arising from the micropipet studies include with Gary Fujii, PhD, CEO and Founder of Molecular Express Inc in Los Angeles, California on a variety of products including a new lung surfactant for respiratory distress syndromes

 Applications of these fundamental particle and interfacial studies have primarily focused on advanced drug delivery treatments for cancer. Of note over the past 20 years has been his invention and development of the Low-Temperature-Sensitive Liposome system for treatment of local cancers that can be warmed by mild hyperthermia.  This 1996 invention was pre-clinically and clinically developed with collaborators in the Duke Medical Center, specifically with Dr. Mark Dewhirst PhD DVM (now retired) and his then Hyperthermia Program in Radiation Oncology and the Duke Cancer Institute and licensed to Celsion Corporation.

 Recently his research and development has focused on nanoparticles, again for anti-cancer applications. Recognizing that cancers are known to “feed” on Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) particles (--sub microscopic nanoparticles composed of fat and protein) from the blood stream, his new strategy is to “make the drug look like the cancer’s food”. The new technology turns the low solubility “bricks” of the pharmaceutical industry, that are very difficult to administer in effective doses by oral tablets, and turns them into much less soluble “rocks” so that they can be made into the LDL-sized nanoparticles for intravenous delivery. This work is in close collaboration with his colleague, Dave Gooden PhD, Director of the Duke Small Molecule Synthesis Facility; hence their “Bricks-to-Rocks Technology (B2RT).  Here, in collaboration, with Will Eward DVM, MD Dept of Surgical Oncology and Ivan Spasojevic, PhD, Director of the PK/PD core, they have pioneered testing this new kind of anti-cancer drug nanoparticle. It has already shown positive results in a lung-metastatic mouse model of Osteosarcoma, as well as in a recent feasibility trial in canine patients with Steve Suter VMD, MS, PhD, DACVIM and colleagues at the NC State Veterinary School.

Finally, over the past year, responding to the COVID19 pandemic, Needham has developed 11 provisional patent applications and one in particular is now forming the basis for a new nasal and throat spray that is intended for use as a Prophylactic-Preventative and in early treatment of COVID19.  This work is being carried out in a new collaboration with the Division Chief of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, Dr Patty Lee and her lab. Together they are actively pursuing pre-Investigational New Drug (IND) studies required to advance the new spray to testing in patients.  

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • Doctor of Science. University of Nottingham. 2015
  • Honorary Professor. School of Pharmacy, Nottingham University, Nottingham, UK. 2014
  • Niels Bohr Professorship,. Danish National Research Foundation, Denmark. 2012
  • Hans Christian Andersen Academy Professor. University Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark. 2012
  • VELUX Visiting Professor Program. VELUX Foundation. 2011
  • Visiting Professor, MEMPHYS/MultiCaps. University of Southern Denmark, Denmark. 2011
  • Participant: Series of Workshops and Tutorials on “Cells and Materials at the Interface between Mathematics, Biology and Engineering”. Institute for Pure and Applied Math, UCLA. 2006
  • National Academy of Sciences Committee on Biomolecular Materials and Processes. Board on Physics and Astronomy National Research Council, the National Academies . 2006
  • Participant, “Blue Sky Committee” . Duke University. 2006
  • Alfred M. Hunt Faculty Scholarship. Duke University. 1988
  • Recipient F.I.R.S.T. Award. National Institutes of Health. 1988
  • NATO/SERC (England) Fellowship. NATO/SERC . 1983
  • Oppenheimer Research Fellowship. Cambridge University. 1982

Courses Taught

  • EGR 393: Research Projects in Engineering
  • ME 490: Special Topics in Mechanical Engineering
  • ME 555: Advanced Topics in Mechanical Engineering

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Needham, D; Kinoshita, K; Utoft, A, Micro-Surface and -Interfacial Tensions Measured Using the Micropipette Technique: Applications in Ultrasound-Microbubbles, Oil-Recovery, Lung-Surfactants, Nanoprecipitation, and Microfluidics., Micromachines, vol 10 no. 2 (2019) [10.3390/mi10020105] [abs].
  • Needham, D; Arslanagic, A; Glud, K; Hervella, P; Karimi, L; Høeilund-Carlsen, P-F; Kinoshita, K; Mollenhauer, J; Parra, E; Utoft, A; Walke, P, Bottom up design of nanoparticles for anti-cancer diapeutics: "put the drug in the cancer's food"., Journal of Drug Targeting, vol 24 no. 9 (2016), pp. 836-856 [10.1080/1061186x.2016.1238092] [abs].
  • Needham, D; Park, J-Y; Wright, AM; Tong, J, Materials characterization of the low temperature sensitive liposome (LTSL): effects of the lipid composition (lysolipid and DSPE-PEG2000) on the thermal transition and release of doxorubicin, Faraday Discussions, vol 161 (2013), pp. 515-534 [10.1039/c2fd20111a] [abs].
  • Manzoor, AA; Lindner, LH; Landon, CD; Park, J-Y; Simnick, AJ; Dreher, MR; Das, S; Hanna, G; Park, W; Chilkoti, A; Koning, GA; ten Hagen, TLM; Needham, D; Dewhirst, MW, Overcoming limitations in nanoparticle drug delivery: triggered, intravascular release to improve drug penetration into tumors., Cancer Res, vol 72 no. 21 (2012), pp. 5566-5575 [10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-1683] [abs].
  • Needham, D; Dewhirst, MW, The development and testing of a new temperature-sensitive drug delivery system for the treatment of solid tumors., Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, vol 53 no. 3 (2001), pp. 285-305 [10.1016/s0169-409x(01)00233-2] [abs].
  • Olbrich, K; Rawicz, W; Needham, D; Evans, E, Water permeability and mechanical strength of polyunsaturated lipid bilayers., Biophysical Journal, vol 79 no. 1 (2000), pp. 321-327 [10.1016/S0006-3495(00)76294-1] [abs].
  • Rawicz, W; Olbrich, KC; McIntosh, T; Needham, D; Evans, E, Effect of chain length and unsaturation on elasticity of lipid bilayers., Biophysical Journal, vol 79 no. 1 (2000), pp. 328-339 [10.1016/S0006-3495(00)76295-3] [abs].
  • Needham, D; Anyarambhatla, G; Kong, G; Dewhirst, MW, A new temperature-sensitive liposome for use with mild hyperthermia: characterization and testing in a human tumor xenograft model., Cancer Research, vol 60 no. 5 (2000), pp. 1197-1201 [abs].
  • Lasic, DD; Needham, D, The "Stealth" liposome: A prototypical biomaterial, Chemical Reviews, vol 95 no. 8 (1995), pp. 2601-2628 [abs].
  • Needham, D; Nunn, RS, Elastic deformation and failure of lipid bilayer membranes containing cholesterol., Biophysical Journal, vol 58 no. 4 (1990), pp. 997-1009 [10.1016/S0006-3495(90)82444-9] [abs].
  • Evans, E; Needham, D, Physical properties of surfactant bilayer membranes: Thermal transitions, elasticity, rigidity, cohesion, and colloidal interactions, The Journal of Physical Chemistry, vol 91 no. 16 (1987), pp. 4219-4228 [abs].

Additional Information

FACILITATED LEARNING Surface and Colloid Science; Engineering Materials; Cellular and Biosurface Engineering; Colloids and Surfaces in Environmental Science and Engineering; Biological Materials Science; Soft Wet Materials and Interfaces; Biologically Inspired Materials and Materials Systems; Mapping Engineering onto Biology. http://www.pratt.duke.edu/pratt_press/web.php?sid=304&iid=34