This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB, RPCI win cancer nanotechnology grants

Published: October 20, 2005

Contributing Editor

The university and Roswell Park Cancer Institute are two out of only 12 institutions in the nation that the National Cancer Institute has chosen to pioneer a new generation of cancer diagnostics and treatments based on nanotechnology.

The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, on Monday announced the awarding of two technology platform grants totaling more than $6.7 million over the next five years to researchers at the institutions.

The goal of the grants is to facilitate rapid clinical and basic research advances to generate products for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer for clinical trials or clinical use within the next five years.

Paras N. Prasad, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director of UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, was awarded a $3.46 million grant for research aimed at developing nanotechnologies for earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of pancreatic cancer. The work also will involve scientists at The Johns Hopkins University.

The second grant, for $3.3 million, has been awarded to Allan Oseroff, chair of the departments of dermatology at RPCI and in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. It will fund research by a team that will include Prasad and researchers at the University of Michigan, and will develop nanotechnology platforms for photodynamic therapy (PDT) to improve treatment for several cancers.

"This funding for our cancer research and treatment efforts is tremendously significant for UB and for our research partners, and will play a very meaningful role in advancing the fight against cancer," said President John B. Simpson.

"As this grant attests, UB's leadership in the emerging field of cancer nanotechnology has played a key role in establishing the university among the ranks of the nation's top biomedical and life sciences institutions. We're tremendously proud of the contributions made by research faculty like Dr. Prasad and Dr. Oseroff and their colleagues, and we're delighted to see their work receive such richly deserved recognition and support."

The award to Prasad is aimed at reducing deaths from pancreatic cancer, now the fourth most deadly cancer in the U.S., accounting for approximately 31, 000 cancer deaths each year, according to the NCI.

Fewer than 5 percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer live for five years after being diagnosed. In addition, family members with two first-degree relatives with pancreatic cancer have an 18-fold greater risk of developing the disease than the general population, while those with three first-degree relatives with the cancer have a 57-fold greater risk, according to research from The Johns Hopkins University, UB's partner in the research.

"This award marks a critical juncture in the maturation of our nanoparticle research program," said Prasad. "It is extremely gratifying to see that these technologies developed at UB are being applied to a disease where the need for earlier detection and more effective treatment is so pressing.

"We are very excited to be working with our Johns Hopkins colleagues in this project designed to accelerate nanotechnology's move out of the laboratory and into the cancer clinic where its potential can be fully realized."

Prasad and his team will develop diagnostic and treatment methods for pancreatic cancer that capitalize on its demonstrated expertise in developing targeted hybrid ceramic-polymeric nanoparticles to better image pancreatic cancer in vivo and to deliver drugs more effectively to treat it.

The award is a partnership between Prasad's group at UB and groups at The Johns Hopkins University led by Anirban Maitra at the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center and by Martin Pomper at the In Vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Center.

The grant to Oseroff capitalizes on his expertise in photodynamic therapy, or PDT, a treatment that originated at RPCI. PDT exploits the propensity of tumors to retain higher concentrations of photosensitive drugs than normal tissues. When exposed to laser light, these drugs generate toxic molecules that destroy the cancer cells.

Oseroff's research team will use tumor-seeking photosensitizers to target delivery of nanoparticles, facilitating both diagnosis and guided therapy in models of cancers of the breast, colon, prostate and lung.

The nanotechnology work at UB has received critical funding from the John R. Oishei Foundation. It also has received seed funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research at UB.

The nanomedicine program of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics operates in collaboration with UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

Research at the institute also has been supported by special New York State funding sponsored by State Sen. Mary Lou Rath.