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Grant Funds Research on Nanotech Cancer Treatments

Spherical nucleic acid

Spherical nucleic acid (Mirkin Research Group, Northwestern University)

1 September 2015. National Cancer Institute is renewing its support for a Northwestern University research center advancing nanotechnology to design new cancer treatments. The Northwestern University Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence is the recipient of a new five-year, $11.7 million grant from National Cancer Institute, part of National Institutes of Health.

The Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence aims to develop cancer therapies based on research with nanoscale materials — 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter — from the lab of Chad Mirkin, director of the International Institute of Nanotechnology at Northwestern’s main campus in Evanston, Illinois. Mirkin and colleagues design nanoscale particles with nucleic acids, components of genetic substances such as DNA, called spherical nucleic acids. These nanoparticles are engineered to express chemical and physical characteristics that interact with cells in the body for diagnostics and treatments, or they can act as a scaffold to build therapeutics from more complex genetic molecules.

Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center in the university’s medical school in Chicago is a partner in the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. Leonidas Platanias, director of Lurie Cancer Center, shares the project’s leadership with Mirkin. National Cancer Institute began supporting the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence in 2005.

The center brings together researchers from the fields of medicine, biology, chemistry, materials science, physics, and engineering to develop new types of nanoparticle-based therapies and diagnostics that can be tested in lab cultures and animals. The project also expects to engage partners in the business community to advance their discoveries into the clinic.

One of the spherical nucleic acids developed in Mirkin’s lab that reached commercialization stage is Nanoflares, a gold nanoparticle with single-stranded DNA flaring from out from the core. Nanoflares can detect live cancer cells in the blood stream before they form tumors. EMD Millipore, a division of the pharmaceutical company Merck, licensed Nanoflare technology from Mirkin’s lab and is taking it to market as an early cancer diagnostic tool.

The National Cancer Institute grant also covers educational programs in nanotechnology and cancer for undergraduates and medical students, as well as fellowships in nanotechnology and continuing education for clinicians.

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