Developing nanotechnologies to improve medical care







Imagine having the ability to take a single pill, or have one injection, and be ready for an MRI, CT scan, and PET scan at the same time? Or have medication go directly to killing a tumor rather than traveling throughout the body first?

College of Science physics professor Srinivas Sridhar is working with a team of physicians and scientists at Northeastern University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital to make it happen. They were recently awarded an Innovations grant from CIMIT – the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Medicine – to develop nanotechnogies for image guided therapies.

MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans traditionally need to be done separately, and then the images need to be laid over each other in order to get the most accurate reading.

Sridhar is working on nanoplatforms to which magnets or drugs could be added and act as internal markers for guided treatments. This would help with planning of surgeries and radioactive treatments.

At Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MGH, state-of-the-art surgical suites have been set up that have all of these imaging machines, but currently that cannot be used simultaneously. Sridhar explained with the team’s research, doctors would be able to bring a patient into those suites and get every image needed at virtually the same time.

Furthermore the nanoplatforms can be made to selectively home in on the tumor and avoid other critical organs. “Cancer patients always lose their hair because we are not good enough at directing drugs to tumors and avoiding other organs,” said Sridhar.

Dr. Mukesh Harisinghani, a radiologist at MGH, says nowadays treatment can be compared to using a canon, whereas this new treatment style is more like a laser gun. “Now, treatment does not come without side effects,” he said. “With this treatment you only would have to give when and where needed.” Harisinghani also said using nanoplatforms could remove the variability that currently exists from patient to patient.

Dr. Kirby Vosburgh, a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, adds that nanoplatforms, due to their more precise targeting, can help eliminate side effects. For instance, he cites a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that says patients who receive radiation therapy for cancer have an increased likelihood of cardiac problems.

“There’s nothing new about targeting chemical structures,” Vosburgh said, “but what’s new is not having an active drug pass through the body, thus exposing tissue that is not selected for treatment.”

Vosburgh also said these targeted nanoplatforms can include signaling elements, making them hundreds of times easier to detect and localize than traditional techniques.

Dr. Steve Schachter, the Chief Academic Officer of CIMIT, said that the collaboration across all of these institutions makes it possible for investigators with medical, scientific, and engineering backgrounds to blend their expertise, viewpoints, and insights.

“We have found cross-disciplinary collaborations to be critically important for the success of innovative research that addresses unmet needs in medicine with engineering solutions,” said Schachter. He’s hopeful this program will lead to new developments and improvements to patient care.

When can the general public see this? Many tests need to be carried out to prove these nanoplatforms are safe for human use, but members of the team are confident that people who are alive now will see it in their lifetimes.

by Kara Matuszewski Sassone

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Posted in Biochemistry, Biology, Biotechnology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology

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