David Needham


Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Professor Needham also holds appointments as Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Associate Professor, Center for Bioinspired materials and material Systems, and the Center for Biomolecular and Tissue Engineering; and Associate Professor, Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Needham's Lab uses 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 excipient concentrations. He brings a wealth of expertise in micromanipulation, colloid stability, and drug delivery formulation.

Dr. Needham's research program combines the fields of Materials Science with Colloid and Surface Chemistry focusing on "Biological and other Soft Wet Materials."

The program is in the general area of forming, coating and encapsulation of solid, liquid and gaseous particles in the colloidal size range (10 nanometers to 10 micrometers). It deals more specifically with the material properties of 2-phase micro and nanosystems, such as surfactants, lipid monolayers, lipid bilayer membranes, micelles, liposomes, hydrogels, wax particles, emulsions, microdroplets, gas bubbles, microcrystals, microglasses, polymer microspheres, and blood and cancer cells.

It is also concerned with the adhesion and repulsion between particle surfaces involving molecular structures at interfaces including repulsive interactions due to the presence of grafted water-soluble polymers and specific interactions between receptors-ligand pairs. Such materials property measurements and inter particle interactions require specialized experimental equipment and the principal experimental approach is that of micropipet manipulation, to manipulate individual and pairs of micro particles and cells in controlled solution environments.

Previous NIH/NCI research grants, focused on experiments and theory concerning:

  1. Molecular exchange and defect formation in lipid vesicle membranes, (specifically involving the partitioning of amphipathic molecules like surfactants, drugs, pH sensitive polymers, and fusogenic peptides); and 
  2. Novel thermally sensitive drug delivery system for treatment of solid tumors. 

Research topics currently under investigation include: lipid and surfactant monolayers at gas bubble, and liquid emulsion surfaces; diffusion-solubility, crystallization and solidification of polymers, lipids, proteins, inorganic crystals and drugs from 2 phase Microsystems, including degradable PLGA polymer microspheres.

The latter is currently funded through an NIH grant entitled, "Microsphere Engineering for Proteins as Drugs". Particular applications of these materials and materials processing concepts are in drug delivery, specifically, the temperature-triggered drug release in solid tumors, and lately formulations of more hydrophobic drugs as emulsions and of proteins in polymer microspheres. Information gained in this work is directed towards, for example, improved image contrast agents, drug delivery systems that use lipids and polymers to create micro- and nano-capsules and monolayer coatings.

The Temperature-sensitive liposome systems are being tested pre-clinically and now clinically with collaborators in the Duke Medical Center, specifically with Dr. Mark Dewhirst in Radiation Oncology. New research is focusing on organic-inorganic nano composites derived from simple surfactants, and new bilayer model systems for studying and using single protein channel activity with Collaborators at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

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

Combining the fields of materials science with colloid and surface chemistry to focus on biological and other soft wet materials

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

  • Amer, MH; Alvarez-Paino, M; McLaren, J; Pappalardo, F; Trujillo, S; Wong, JQ; Shrestha, S; Abdelrazig, S; Stevens, LA; Lee, JB; Kim, D-H; González-García, C; Needham, D; Salmerón-Sánchez, M; Shakesheff, KM; Alexander, MR; Alexander, C; Rose, FR, Designing topographically textured microparticles for induction and modulation of osteogenesis in mesenchymal stem cell engineering., Biomaterials, vol 266 (2021) [10.1016/j.biomaterials.2020.120450] [abs].
  • Reddy, GB; Kerr, DL; Spasojevic, I; Tovmasyan, A; Hsu, DS; Brigman, BE; Somarelli, JA; Needham, D; Eward, WC, Preclinical Testing of a Novel Niclosamide Stearate Prodrug Therapeutic (NSPT) Shows Efficacy Against Osteosarcoma., Mol Cancer Ther, vol 19 no. 7 (2020), pp. 1448-1461 [10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-19-0689] [abs].
  • Alvarez-Paino, M; Amer, MH; Nasir, A; Cuzzucoli Crucitti, V; Thorpe, J; Burroughs, L; Needham, D; Denning, C; Alexander, MR; Alexander, C; Rose, FRAJ, Polymer Microparticles with Defined Surface Chemistry and Topography Mediate the Formation of Stem Cell Aggregates and Cardiomyocyte Function., Acs Applied Materials & Interfaces, vol 11 no. 38 (2019), pp. 34560-34574 [10.1021/acsami.9b04769] [abs].
  • Munk, MB; Utoft, A; Larsen, FH; Needham, D; Risbo, J, Oleogelating properties of ethylcellulose in oil-in-water emulsions: The impact of emulsification methods studied by 13C MAS NMR, surface tension and micropipette manipulation studies, Food Hydrocolloids, vol 89 (2019), pp. 700-706 [10.1016/j.foodhyd.2018.11.019] [abs].
  • Pipó-Ollé, E; Walke, P; Notabi, MK; El-Houri, RB; Østergaard Andersen, M; Needham, D; Arnspang, EC, Uptake of New Lipid-coated Nanoparticles Containing Falcarindiol by Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells., Journal of Visualized Experiments : Jove no. 144 (2019) [10.3791/59094] [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