New Nanoparticle Research Targets Head and Neck, Pancreatic Cancers

New Nanoparticle Research Targets Head and Neck, Pancreatic Cancers
Two NCI cooperative awards for $4.7 million join Emory, Georgia Tech researchers
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Dong Moon Shin, MD, professor of hematology, medical oncology and otolaryngology and director of the Winship Cancer Chemoprevention program. Photos of Shin available for download.Researchers at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology will join forces against head and neck cancers and pancreatic cancer using two grants from the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Nanotechnology Platform Partnerships (CNPP) program. The cooperative five-year grants totaling $4.7 million will be used to develop nanoparticles as diagnostic and therapeutic tools against cancers.

The first grant totals more than $2.3 million over five years and is awarded to Dong Moon Shin, MD, professor of hematology, medical oncology and otolaryngology and director of the Winship Cancer Chemoprevention program, and Mostafa El-Sayed, PhD, Regents professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Laser Dynamics Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Their project, titled "Toxicity and efficacy of gold nanoparticle photothermal therapy in cancer," is aimed at head and neck cancer, which develops in the soft tissues of the mouth and throat.

"We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to combine our laboratories' biological and chemical expertise and to develop gold nanoparticle phototherapy into an effective tool against head and neck cancer," says Shin.

When a laser is tuned to certain wavelengths, gold nanoparticles will absorb the energy and convert it to heat, thanks to a phenomenon known as "surface plasmon resonance." Directing the nanoparticles to "home in" on cancer cells enables the laser to selectively kill them.

Researchers plan to target the molecule EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor), which is found on almost all head and neck cancers, by binding the gold nanoparticles to antibodies against EGFR. Studies in animals on the toxicity of gold nanoparticles and how fast they move within the body are necessary before application in humans.

The second NCI grant for nearly $2.4 million over five years will be used to develop magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles as tools against pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly of all cancer types. The principal investigators are Lily Yang, MD, PhD, associate professor of surgery and Hui Mao, PhD, associate professor of radiology and Center for Systems Imaging, both at Emory University School of Medicine.

The project, titled "Theranostic nanoparticles for targeted treatment of pancreatic cancer," aims to combine the function of MRI visualization with drug delivery capabilities for pancreatic cancer therapy and diagnosis (thera - nostics).

Using magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles developed by Yang and Mao and their teams, researchers plan to improve the delivery of chemotherapeutic agents by directing drug-carrying nanoparticles to the molecule uPAR (urokinase plasminogen activator receptor), which is prevalent in pancreatic cancer cells.

Magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles will be loaded with different types of drug molecules that can be released at the site of the tumor or even inside of the tumor cells. "These nanoparticles can be tracked by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)," says Yang, "so we will test our ability to monitor drug delivery and treatment responses with imaging technology."

Other institutions receiving CNPP grants are Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; Children's Hospital of Los Angeles; University of North Carolina; Northeastern University; Northwestern University; Rice University; University of Cincinnati; University of Nebraska Medical Center; University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center; and the University of Utah.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital.  The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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