North­eastern Uni­ver­sity phar­ma­ceu­tical sci­ences pro­fessor Man­soor Amiji is leading inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research into nanotechnology-​​based methods of drug delivery that could pro­vide break­throughs in treating dis­eases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, schiz­o­phrenia and HIV/​AIDS.

The National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded so-​​called R21 grants to back the work of Amiji and his col­lab­o­ra­tors from the Col­leges of Arts and Sci­ences and Engi­neering. The NIH’s R21 pro­gram encour­ages novel and high-​​risk/​high-​​reward research by pro­viding sup­port for the early and con­cep­tual stages of project development.

The National Cancer Insti­tute awarded a two-​​year, $350,000 grant to develop more potent ther­a­pies for killing cancer cells that become resis­tant after ini­tial chemother­a­peutic treat­ment, which can cause relapse in patients with dif­ferent types of cancer.

Amiji, working with chem­istry and chem­ical biology pro­fes­sors Robert Hanson and Max Diem, will explore whether including the cell killer ceramide as a part of chemotherapy will kill tumor cells that are resis­tant to other treat­ment approaches.

Using nanocar­rier tech­nology, the com­bi­na­tion treat­ment would be deliv­ered directly to a cancer cell’s mito­chon­dria to trigger cell death.

The National Insti­tute of Neu­ro­log­ical Dis­eases and Stroke awarded a two-​​year, $475,000 grant to Amiji and chem­ical engi­neering pro­fessor Rebecca Car­rier to examine a “nano-​​emulsion” system of delivery that will allow drugs to cross the blood-​​brain barrier.

The process could greatly increase the recovery chances of a patient with Parkinson’s or HIV/​AIDS, Amiji said, because “having a system to get these drug ther­a­pies to their appro­priate place of action is critical.”

Cur­rent drugs devel­oped for treating brain dis­eases can’t reach the brain 98 per­cent of the time because of the low per­me­ability of the blood-​​brain bar­rier. Researchers are inves­ti­gating whether a nano-​​sized mix­ture of water, oil droplets rich in omega-​​3 fatty acids and cur­cumin, an Indian spice, will help drugs cross the blood-​​brain bar­rier by increasing its permeability.

The new system could vastly improve the treat­ment of those dis­eases that tend to “hide” in the brain, using it as a sanctuary.

If we can take the drug to where the virus is hiding, we will have better ther­a­peutic effects,” said Amiji.