NCI establishes nanotech centers of excellence

October 4, 2005

Molecular imaging is an important component of new research projects financed by the National Cancer Institute’s Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence program.

Molecular imaging is an important component of new research projects financed by the National Cancer Institute's Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence program.

The location of seven centers, financed with first-year grants of $26.3 million, was announced Oct. 3 by NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach. The NCI plans to spend $144.3 million on nanotechnology over the next five years. Its Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer will coordinate the program.

"Through the applications of nanotechnology, we will increase the rate of progress toward eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer," von Eschenbach said in a teleconference to launch the program.

The Siteman Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at Washington University in St. Louis, the MIT-Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence in Boston, and the Nanosystems Biology Cancer Centers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, are all associated with molecular imaging laboratories that have already made major discoveries in the field.

Dr. Samuel Wickline, principal Siteman Center investigator, is the coinventor of emulation-based perfluorocarbon nanoparticles that provide targeted imaging and drug deliveries to sites of early angiogenetic processes associated with cancer and atherosclerosis. The nanoparticles may be adapted for MR, CT, and ultrasound imaging of structures to tumors as small as 1 mm. With optical imaging, the resolution potentially improves to 1 nm, he said during the teleconference.

Dr. Ralph Weissleder, director of the Center for Molecular Imaging Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, is also codirector of the MIT-Harvard center. As the largest molecular imaging laboratory in the U.S., CMRI has pioneered optical imaging and smart contrast agent technologies.

The MIT-Harvard center will create new types of nanoparticles and targeting strategies, according to codirector Robert Langer, Ph.D. These include the use of nucleic acid ligands called aptimers for targeted delivery of drugs to prostate cancer cells, the development of nontoxic quantum dot, a leading candidate for future imaging contrast development, and the design of implantable microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) for programmable drug delivery.

The Nanosystems center will pursue targeted PET agents, in part because of the involvement of Michael Phelps, Ph.D., chair of the molecular and medicine pharmacology department at the University of California, Los Angeles. The lab's other partners are the California Institute of Technology and Dr. Leroy Hood's Institute for System Biology in Seattle.

New agents will be developed targeting organ-specific secreted proteins for imaging prostate cancer, gliosarcoma, and other neoplasms, according to principal investigator James Heath, Ph.D., of CIT. Using protein sequencer technologies, new high-affinity PET agents will be synthesized on protein chips that produce the probes eight times faster than conventional methods.

Labs at the University of North Carolina, the University of California, San Diego, Northwestern University, and a collaboration between Emory and Georgia Tech University in Atlanta will create new focal points for nanotechnology and associated molecular imaging discoveries, according to their principal investigators.

The Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence in Chapel Hill will focus on the fabrication of targeted nanoparticles. The Center of Nanotechnology for Treatment, Understanding, and Monitoring of Cancer at UCSD will examine the possibilities for a smart, multifunctional, all-in-one platform for tumor targeting and drug delivery.

The use of quantum dots as an MR contrast medium for breast cancer imaging is one of five research projects pursued by the Emory-Georgia Tech Nanotechnology Center for Personalized and Predictive Oncology.

The projects are interdisciplinary involving biochemistry, engineering, physics, genetics, informatics, oncology, and imaging sciences. The NCI encouraged the labs to collaborate with private businesses. Applied Biosystems, Bristol Myers Squibb, Hewlett Packard, and Philips Medical Systems are involved in some projects.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

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ECR places molecular imaging under intense scrutiny