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Updated 5:00 PM October 25, 2005




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  U-M Health System
$2.5M grant supports use of nanotechnology to fight cancer

U-M has received a grant for $2.5 million over five years to develop a system using particles one-billionth of a meter in size to make cancer treatment more individualized and less toxic.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, announced the grant Oct. 18 as part of a five-year initiative for nanotechnology in cancer research. The award establishes U-M as one of 12 Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships.

"This funding allows us to develop a platform that could revolutionize cancer therapy by providing personalized molecularly assembled drugs. Our prior work has demonstrated the feasibility of this concept yielding prototypes that could be in the clinic within one year," says Dr. James R. Baker Jr., director of the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine & Biological Sciences and co-director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) Molecular Therapeutics Program. Baker will serve as principal investigator for the project.

U-M researchers will develop a module to deliver drugs directly to tumor cells, using a manmade polymer molecule called a dendrimer that is small enough to slip through tiny openings in cell membranes. The dendrimer module will be joined to another polymer, which will allow researchers to target cancer cells for imaging or treatment.

Researchers already have had success with single dendrimer-based devices in cell cultures and animal studies. They hope to fuse it with the additional polymer to create personalized cancer treatments tailored to each individual patient. The physician would be able to select various components and link them together like Tinker Toys to create a personalized treatment.

"Nanotechnology is a most exciting new technology that holds the promise of specifically being able to target tumor cells while sparing normal cells. This technology also has important applications for tumor detection. As co-director of the Cancer Center's Molecular Therapeutics Program, Dr. James Baker is leading the effort throughout the University to develop this new technology," says Dr. Max Wicha, CCC director.

Nanotechnology stands to greatly improve current cancer treatments in which drugs are pumped throughout the entire body. The nano-based delivery system would zero in only on cancer cells, leaving normal, healthy cells unharmed and thereby avoiding the nausea, hair loss and other unpleasant side effects caused by regular cancer chemotherapy.

Nanotechnology, the development and engineering of devices so small they are measured on a molecular scale, already has demonstrated promising results in cancer research and treatment. In September 2004, the NCI launched its Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer as a comprehensive, integrated initiative to develop and translate cancer-related nanotechnology research into clinical practice. The Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships are part of the initiative.

"The future of oncology—and the opportunity to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer—will hinge upon our ability to confront cancer at its molecular level," says Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, NCI director. "Nanodevices, invisible to the naked eye and a tiny fraction the width of a human hair, will enable researchers to probe genetic defects inside cells, detect the earliest aberrations of cellular function that lead to cancer, and correct those errant processes long before they give rise to cancers large enough to be diagnosed by today's methods."

The efforts at U-M represent collaboration across the University, including the CCC, Medical School, College of Engineering and LSA.

In addition to Baker, U-M researchers who will participate in the project are: Mark Banaszak Holl, professor of chemistry and macromolecular science and engineering; Theodore B. Norris, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Bradford G. Orr, professor of physics; Ioan Andricioaei, assistant professor of chemistry and research assistant professor of bioinformatics; Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, associate professor of chemistry; research investigators Istvan J. Majoros, Jolanta Kukowska-Latallo and Xiangyang Shi; research assistant professor Thommey P. Thomas; and assistant research scientist Jingyong Ye.

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