NCI funds Rice Universitys nanotechnology preclinical study

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Researchers from Rice University's Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP), the radiology department at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are preparing to test a combined approach for diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer with a specially engineered nanoparticle. The five-year, preclinical testing program will be funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer program.

Theranostics involve technologies and agents that can diagnose and treat diseases in a single procedure. The theranostic particle that will be tested at Rice, BCM and MD Anderson was invented at LANP. "A seamless integration of multiple imaging and therapeutic technologies within a single nanoparticle is required to tackle diseases like pancreatic cancer, which often resist conventional therapies," said Amit Joshi, PhD, co-principal investigator of the project and assistant professor of radiology at BCM in Houston.

At the heart of the particle is a nanoshell that can be used to kill cancer cells with heat. The particle can also be tagged with antibodies that allow it to home in on specific types of cancer cells. In addition, the nanoparticle is designed to provide high-resolution images regarding its location in the body and in the tumor. This is accomplished by combining an FDA-cleared dye for fluorescence imaging with an active marker for MRI.

These combined capabilities allow researchers to track the nanoparticles throughout the body and even observe their distribution within the tumor before, during and after treatment, said Rice University in Houston.

In the NCI study, researchers will test whether the particles can be used to image and treat pancreatic cancer in mice. The tests will investigate how well the particles work as imaging agents - both in MRI scans and in fluorescent optical scans, how well they target specific cell types, where they go inside the body after testing and treatment and how well they perform as therapeutic agents.