LOWELL, Mass. – A UMass Lowell researcher who is developing a specialized drug treatment for breast cancer patients has received more than $725,000 from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health to advance his work.
Chemical Engineering Prof. Prakash Rai of Lowell is creating a drug-delivery method with an imaging agent that would allow doctors to see injected drugs as they target cancer cells. The NIH grant calls for Rai and his team to focus on developing drug-delivery systems for two of the deadliest forms of breast cancer, known medically as the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 positive (HER2+) and triple-negative breast cancer.
In 2012, more than 290,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,000 died from the disease, according to American Cancer Society estimates.
The imaging agent delivered along with injected cancer medication will help physicians guide treatment, should help reduce the collateral damage to healthy cells and may decrease a patient's drug dosage, reducing toxic side effects, according to Rai.
"If successful, these image-guided, targeted therapies should make a significant impact on the clinical care of breast cancer patients by improving survival and overall quality of life," he said.
Rai and his team plan to combine several drugs that have shown potential in cancer treatment with the imaging agent into a single nanometer-sized targeted drug-delivery system called a theranostic nanoconstruct (TNC). The size of the nanoparticles, which measure only billionths of a meter, make it possible to deliver drug molecules directly to cancer cells.
Rai's research is at the forefront of theranostics, an emerging field in medicine that combines therapeutics and diagnostics to help doctors develop highly individualized and targeted treatments based on a patient's health profile. Theranostic medicine uses nanotechnology to help detect, see and treat disease at the same time.
"Although theranostic nanomedicine as a field is still in its infancy, in the near future it is expected to significantly impact patient care by making it possible to treat each patient with a personalized treatment to his or her disease," Rai said.
The drug-delivery method he and his researchers are developing can be used to help treat other types of cancer and can be adapted to treat other diseases, including atherosclerosis and infectious and neurodegenerative diseases, he added.
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