Thinking Big with the Very Small:
Focus of New Cancer Nanotechnology Center at UCSD
By Rex Graham
focus of the UCSD Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence
will be to develop "nanoparticles" that target
specific tumor cells or, as illustrated in this example,
the blood vessels that feed them.
In a new national effort
to fight cancer with “nanoscale” devices that find
and destroy tumor cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed,
the National Cancer Institute (NCI) today awarded the University
of California, San Diego $3.9 million in the first year of a
five-year $20 million initiative to establish a Center for Cancer
Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE). The UCSD center will use nanotechnology
to develop anti-cancer therapies that directly target tumor
cells; more accurate and faster diagnostics; and ways to track
down cancer cells that survive therapy.
The NCI named a total
of seven university centers to develop clinically useful nanotechnology
“platforms” to treat, understand, and monitor cancer.
The UCSD team includes engineers, chemists, and biologists who
will collaborate with physicians at the Rebecca and John Moores
UCSD Cancer Center, and colleagues at the Burnham Institute
for Medical Research and University of California campuses at
Irvine, Riverside, and Santa Barbara, to develop nanotechnology
devices so small that they are measured on a molecular scale.
for Excellence will bring the best minds in engineering, basic
and translational research, and clinical care together to apply
the power of nanotechnology to the improved treatment of cancer,
the second leading cause of death in our society today,”
said UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. “Such an effort represents
the tremendous value of collaboration, not only across disciplines,
but also among institutions, resulting in important innovations
that benefit our society.”
Esener, professor of electrical and computer engineering
at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering and the principal
investigator of the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence
at the university, says nanotechnology will allow doctors
to deliver an array of promising new anti-cancer treatments
to the exact positions in the body where they are needed.
The focus of the UCSD
team will be to develop “mother ships,” smart nanoplatforms
capable of homing in on tumors and delivering payloads of smaller
particles to perform various tasks in the tumors. About the
size of a red blood cell, these micron-sized nanoporous mother
ships would move through the body, target specific tumor cells
or the blood vessels that feed them. After arriving at their
destinations, mother ships would release their payload nanoparticles,
which could be designed to help image tumors, enter cells and
perform measurements, and deliver therapies. Chemists at UCSD
together with materials scientists at the University of California,
Santa Barbara nanofabrication facility will synthesize nanoparticles
that will be coated with “biolinkers,” molecules
developed at the Burnham Institute to make the particles attach
to specific types of tumor cells.
allows us to much more specifically and accurately deliver an
array of promising new treatments to the exact positions in
the body where they are needed,” said Sadik Esener, professor
of electrical and computer engineering at the UCSD Jacobs School
of Engineering and the principal investigator of the UCSD center.
”Nanotechnology will also enable doctors to get more rapid
noninvasive feedback on the effectiveness of treatment, and
when biopsies are needed, these approaches will require much
smaller tissue samples for analysis in the laboratory.”
The UCSD Center for
Excellence will focus on non-invasive treatments for leukemia
and breast cancer to take advantage of the expertise in studying
those diseases by scientists at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center.
“Cancer nanotechnology is one of the most exciting and
promising areas of cancer research today. This science of the
very small may translate to very big changes for cancer patients,”
said Dr. Dennis Carson, director of the Moores UCSD Cancer Center.
“We are developing powerful drugs and other chemotherapeutic
agents that are more and more effective when they reach their
target. But we need engineers and materials scientists to build
the nanodevices that can deliver these agents to the target.
At the cancer center, we are embracing nanotechnology as part
of our focus on translating scientific advances into new options
The UCSD-based center
will focus on six projects, each to develop new technologies
that when integrated together will create platforms for more
powerful and selective cancer therapy. The technologies will
be evaluated in animal models. In order to help identify inventions
with commercial potential, representatives from General Electric
Company, Honeywell, Irvine Sensors Corporation, Nanogen, and
Enterprise Partners Venture Capital will serve on a committee
to regularly evaluate the progress of the research at UCSD.
Roger Tsien, a UCSD
professor of pharmacology and biochemistry, will lead a team
that includes Fox in the development of very small nanoparticles
that move unimpeded through the blood and healthy tissues and
organs. However, when the nanoparticles encounter tumor cells,
tumor-associated enzymes will trigger them to clump together,
trapping the nanoparticles in the tumor but not in healthy tissue.
Clumping is expected to enhance the ability of the nanoparticles
to capture energy from external radiation to help produce images
or kill the tumors selectively and noninvasively.
A team led by Erkki
Ruoslahti, a distinguished professor at the Burnham Institute
and an expert in directing nanoparticles to desired sites in
the body, will design nanoparticles that can go inside a cancer
cell, extract themselves, and report what they found.
Esener and Michael
Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD, will
use the results of Tsien’s and Ruoslahti’s nanoparticle
experiments to create porous “mother ships” that
would home in on tumors and release their nanoparticle payloads.
Rather than immediately dispatching tumors, the mother ships
may be used to identify and image tumors, take measurements,
and then kill the tumors by releasing anti-cancer drugs on cue.
A project led by Carson
and Dr. Thomas Kipps, deputy director of the Moores UCSD Cancer
Center, will study nanoparticles designed to monitor genetic
changes occurring within cancer cells over time. The particles
will be programmed to deliver nanodiagnostic tools at precisely
defined points in time during tumor progression.
disease accounts for the majority of cancer deaths. David Cheresh,
a pathology professor at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, will
focus on eradicating tumor cells that survive anti-cancer therapy
with a “smart nanoplatform.” Cheresh plans to experiment
with programmable particles whose target-binding properties
can be finely tuned to hunt and kill residual disease.
A team at UCSD consisting
of Andrew Kummel, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry,
Michael H. Heller, a professor of bioengineering, and Kim Prather,
a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will collaborate
with Mihri Ozkan, a professor of electrical engineering at UC
Riverside to develop near-real-time instruments enabled by nanotechnology
to look for tell-tale single cancer cells and probe them to
analyze their health conditions. The UCSD division of the California
Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology
will supply some of the facilities and support for this project.
The other universities
named today as Centers for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence
are: University of North Carolina; Emory University and Georgia
Institute of Technology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology
and Harvard University; Northwestern University; California
Institute of Technology; and Washington University in St. Louis,
MO. Each of the CCNE awardees includes an NCI-designated cancer
center that is affiliated with schools of engineering and physical
sciences, and partnered with not-for-profit organizations and/or
private sector firms, with the specific intent of advancing
the technologies being developed.
Founded in 1979, the
Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center is one of 39 centers
in the United States to hold NCI designation as a Comprehensive
Cancer Center. Part of the UCSD Medical Center, the Moores Cancer
Center ranks among the top centers in the nation conducting
basic and clinical cancer research, providing advanced patient
care and serving the community through outreach and education
Denine Hagen, (858) 534-2920,
mobile: (858) 245-8506
Leslie Franz, (619) 543-6163,
mobile: (619) 994-5432
Rex Graham, (858) 822-3075,
mobile: (858) 232-2706