Nanotechnology Research at the NanoTumor Center
The NanoTumor Center was established in 2005. In that year, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) started a $144 million effort involving eight cooperative programs with universities in the United States. These programs were named Centers for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE).
Six universities were brought into a consortium led by the University of California at San Diego to create the NanoTumor Center. Each center involved in this program must bring resources from various disciplines, such as engineering, chemistry, physics, and health sciences, to attack the problem of fighting cancer by using nanotechnology.
The NanoTumor Center has stated that its primary focus is “to apply nanotechnology to the treatment, understanding, and monitoring of cancer towards reducing the suffering and death it results in. To realize this objective, we use targeted nanoparticles of various sizes and properties, optimized for detection, sensing, imaging, and therapy.”
One area of focus is to find a way to insert nanoparticles into the blood without the body’s immune system detecting them. After nanoparticles enter the blood system undetected, they could attach to a tumor and penetrate it without causing damage to surrounding organs.
These particles could then provide measurements of a tumor’s growth to help researchers understand more about cancer. The Center’s intention is to then communicate what they find to corporations, who could develop products and procedures to use in a clinical setting.
Longer term, the lab hopes to develop nanoplatforms, which they call “a payload of multifunctional smart motherships.” These micron-sized motherships would deliver a collection of nanoparticles that could detect and identify tumors, and also provide images and measurements to researchers or medical practitioners.
They could also deliver treatment to destroy cancer cells as they travel through the blood system. The team working on this effort includes doctors, scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, as well as business people whose companies could collaborate with the lab to offer these advanced treatments to patients.
Here are two of the more interesting accomplishments of the NanoTumor Centers:
Dr. Thomas Kipps has developed a chemically engineered adenovirus nanoparticle. This virus can be used to deliver a molecule that affects the immune system, alerting it to an infection in the body.
In tests, researchers have seen that only one injection of this nanoparticle-based virus has resulted in significant reductions in the number of leukemia cells in some patients and in the size of tumors in the lymph nodes and spleen in others. One patient went into remission after treatment with this engineered virus.
Researchers at the NanoTumor Center, along with other organizations, such as MIT–Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology, Excellence, have helped to develop magnetic nanoworms. These chains of iron oxide nanoparticles make it possible to improve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) by enhancing the contrast in the images.
This program has also created a method for using gold nanorods to heat a tumor so that proteins rise to the surface. Other nanoparticles can then more easily attach themselves to the tumor, making it possible to take higher resolution images of the tumor. This capability to change the properties of cancerous tissue to improve diagnosis is a very promising area for cancer research.