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Pharmacy professor awarded $1.5M to silence chatter among cancer cells

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published August 31, 2017

headshot of Juliane Nguyen
“These new carriers have the potential to prevent metastasis in cancer patients.”
Juliane Nguyen, assistant professor
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

With support from a new $1.58 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UB researchers aim to develop a targeted treatment to prevent communication between cancer cells.

By developing biomaterials that target exosomes — lipid vesicles secreted by many cells that act as a courier between them — the researchers will deliver anticancer drugs to alter the pathogenic messages being delivered.

Exosomes, once thought of as the cell’s garbage disposal, have the ability to transport genetic information, allowing them to reprogram cells and alter their function. When secreted by a cancer cell into the circulatory system, exosomes may carry genetic material that enhances the spread of cancer to surrounding tissue and other parts of the body.

“Reprograming these exosomes may disarm the dangerous package that they carry, potentially preventing tumor growth and spread to distant sites or organs,” says Juliane Nguyen, principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“This will lay the foundation for the development of novel drug carriers for treating diseases in which exosomes are pathological. More specifically, these new carriers have the potential to prevent metastasis in cancer patients.”

Currently, there are no therapeutic strategies capable of disrupting the pathogenic communication facilitated by exosomes.

The four-year grant is provided through the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Co-investigators of the multidisciplinary effort include Irwin Gelman, professor of oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and Piero Bianco, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.