Updated July 28 at 8:28am

URI professor lands $1.3 million for nanoparticle cancer treatment

The National Institutes of Health has awarded $1.3 million to University of Rhode Island researcher Wei Lu to study the application of inorganic nanoparticles in the treatment of cancer.

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life sciences

URI professor lands $1.3 million for nanoparticle cancer treatment

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SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The National Institutes of Health has awarded $1.3 million to University of Rhode Island researcher Wei Lu to study the application of inorganic nanoparticles in the treatment of cancer.

Lu, an assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences in the URI College of Pharmacy, has discovered through preliminary research that hollow copper-sulfide nanoparticles – one-thousandth the width of a human hair – effectively deliver chemotherapy and heat through a laser that can burn the tumor away.

Laser treatments of cancerous tumors, called photothermal ablation therapy, previously required high levels of laser exposure to burn and kill a tumor. Over the last decade, however, inorganic nanoparticles were introduced to the process in animal tests. Inorganic nanoparticles, like the copper-sulfide nanoparticles used in Lu’s study, better absorb the laser light and generate greater heat, therefore lowering the laser doses necessary to kill a tumor.

“One nanoparticle can carry hundreds or even thousands of drug molecules to a target like a tumor cell,” said Lu. “We are developing a novel cancer therapeutic technology that has several innovative features: biodegradability, multimodality and simplicity.”

The four-year NIH grant will support Lu’s continued research with a focus on breast cancer. Lu’s study could improve existing nanotechnology, which has been shown to produce inconsistent results due to the uneven distribution of heat throughout a tumor. Near-infrared laser light, which Lu has used for his research, penetrates tumor tissue more effectively than ultraviolet or visible light, Lu said.

In addition, while some types of nanoparticles – such as gold particles – can leave toxic traces in the body after a laser treatment, Lu’s copper-sulfide nanoparticles are readily biodegradable and minimize potential toxic damage to organs, he said.

Lu’s research colleague, Bingfang Yan, is a specialist in drug response and tumor formation and the chair of the URI department of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences. While Lu works on the application of nanoparticle therapy, Yan focuses on the toxicology of how the nanoparticles are eliminated from the body after treatment.

Lu, who came to URI in 2010, said he could not have competed for the NIH award if it weren’t for the support of the Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, a $45 million initiative funded by NIH and headed by URI to increase research capacity among biomedical faculty in Rhode Island.

“The program supported my research for three years, which allowed me to develop my preliminary findings,” Lu said. “I am very grateful for this support, without which I could not have gotten this major federal funding.”

Lu and Yan will work with post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates from URI’s pharmaceutical sciences program over the course of the four-year grant.

National Institutes of Health, University of Rhode Island, Wei Lu, nanoparticle cancer treatment, photothermal ablation therapy, Bingfang Yan, Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, URI, NIH,

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