Nanotechnology cancer center is formed via grant

By Gwen Ericson

Nanosized particles developed at the School of Medicine offer hope of replacing numerous medical tests, scans or surgeries with a simple injection.

Samuel A. Wickline

Samuel A. Wickline

The tiny spheres can travel through the bloodstream deep into the body to locate and highlight tumors undetectable by typical methods. While at the tumor site, the nanoparticles can deliver therapeutic agents to destroy the tumor.

To advance this promising technology, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded $16 million over five years to the School of Medicine to establish the Siteman Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (SCCNE).

The NCI also awarded funding for six other Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs) around the United States.

The SCCNE will research and apply nanotechnology for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The center will be headed by Samuel A. Wickline, M.D., professor of medicine and of cellular biology in the School of Medicine; of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science; and of physics in Arts & Sciences. He and Gregory M. Lanza, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, developed nanoscale particles that can home in on tumor cells to carry imaging agents and drug therapies directly to tumor sites.

Capable of supporting a wide variety of homing, imaging and therapeutic agents, nanotechnology offers several advantages over traditional techniques.

It can provide more-accurate visualization and characterization of tumors, revealing even tiny tumors in medical scans. It has the ability to focus chemotherapeutic drugs exclusively at tumor sites to alleviate unpleasant or risky side effects. And it offers more precise adaptation of treatment to the biochemical and molecular features of each patient's disease.

"We've entered an era of precisely targeted and individualized cancer therapy," Wickline said. "Our nanotechnology will strongly affect the practice of medicine.

"And the grant from the NCI will allow us to build a highly effective collaborative network to bring the technology rapidly to clinical use in the treatment of cancer."

In addition to developing general oncology applications, the SCCNE will focus its efforts on breast cancer and melanoma detection and treatment. Some projects planned for the center include:

• Targeting of multiple tumors for early detection of cancer;

• A nanoparticle-based contrast agent for ultrasound imaging and therapy of tumors;

• Statistical tools to model the behavior of nanoparticles in the body; and

• Novel nanoscale sensors for rapidly screening potential anticancer drugs in single cells.

"The investment in cancer-related nanotechnology by the NCI is a show of confidence that this technology will truly advance cancer treatment," said Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. "By bringing these creative laboratory innovations to practical medical application, the SCCNE will become a vital part of the School of Medicine's BioMed 21 initiative."

The NCI began supporting the application of nanotechnology to cancer more than seven years ago. Within the past year, the institute created the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer (nano.cancer.gov) as a comprehensive initiative to translate nanotechnology research into clinical practice in cancer medicine. The establishment of the seven CCNEs is part of this initiative.

"With the advent of the Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, we are particularly looking forward to new nanotech-based therapeutic delivery systems that could enhance the efficacy and tolerability of cancer treatments — an advance that would greatly benefit cancer patients," said Anna Barker, Ph.D., the NCI's deputy director.

Each CCNE is a multi-institutional hub. The SCCNE is a collaboration including the School of Medicine and the Siteman Cancer Center, the University of Illinois, several private-sector companies including Kereos Inc., and large multinational corporations including Philips Medical Systems.

The SCCNE will be housed in a newly constructed biotechnology laboratory complex on the east edge of the Medical Campus. Developed by CORTEX — the Center of Research, Technology & Entrepreneurial Exchange — the building is scheduled for completion in January.

The other six CCNEs are at the University of North Carolina; the University of California, San Diego; Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology (joint center); Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital (joint center); Northwestern University; and California Institute of Technology.