Apr 162009
Authors: Chloe Wittry

A CSU professor and a team of students are developing a new system of delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to affected sites in leukemia patients using nanotechnology.

The team of CSU and Pennsylvania State University scientists and researchers, who spent the last year cultivating the idea and furthering testing, said the new treatment method will sufficiently target the cancer while eliminating common symptoms of regular chemotherapy such as hair loss.

“I know it’s a popular research subject because if you can get this to work you can cure a lot of types of different cancer,” said Derek Carroll, a junior mechanical engineer, who works on the project.

In theory a doctor would surgically implant hundreds of scaffolds, tiny support structures, into a patient’s bone marrow. Each of the scaffolds house a nanotube filled with chemotherapy drugs, which are then diffused into the marrow.

“Basically the nanotubes would act as test tubes so we can put the (chemotherapy) drugs in them and insert them inside the body,” said research team leader Ketul Popat, an assistant CSU mechanical engineering professor. “Then the drug is released when it is supposed to be and there will be no side effects.”

The goal is that a person would not experience the joint pain, nausea, blood clots, glaucoma, taste changes and dozens more side effects normally associated with chemotherapy treatment, a process in which drugs are administered to a person’s entire body.

“Let’s say your cancer is in your left leg, the chemo will get to your left leg but it will also affect your kidneys, nerves, and liver because it will spread,” he said. “When the drugs are administered locally, through the use of nanotubes, the chemo drug is only delivered to the spot that you need it so the concentration is high enough to kill the cancer, and the amount (of drugs) needed is much less.”

Because the nanotube is made of titanium, Popat said, it does not cause any harm to the body if left in place.

The idea behind the science came from Popat who first experimented with biomaterials while working on his undergraduate degree in India. He later evolved his research to focus on nanotechnologies as a graduate student at the University of Illinois.

Currently, chemotherapy delivered by tiny nanotechnologies is in the experimental phase and has only been tested on rats. Researchers said while it has not been tested on humans yet they hope to have a product on the market in about five years.

“We designed an implantable device that delivers a drug and provides the architecture that cells need to regenerate tissue,” said Timothy Ruckh, a graduate student in biochemical engineering who joined the research team last summer.

Ruckh said they received two different types of cancer cells from the vet hospital on campus that are used for tests. He believes that both cell types are from dogs.

“I’ve been doing research since I first got the job last fall,” said Derek Carroll, a junior mechanical engineer. “I’ve definitely worked very long weeks and gone weeks where there is nothing to be done.”

Carroll said that the team regularly looks at results from other research papers, universities and institutions to see what they have found discovered on the subject.

“I don’t think our group will have a product that’s ready to be launched soon, but we will make improvements and find out ways to do things so that the next team of researchers and continue with it,” Carroll said.

“We are still in the research phase,” Popat said. “But it has a lot of potential to be in the clinical area. We are expecting it is going to take about five years or so to get to the point where we can start talking to companies and going into real applications (of using it in the medical world.)”

Popat said he and his students are also starting to work on a nanowire project made from polymer that will administer chemo to soft tissues inside of the body. This could benefit people with breast cancer, prostate cancer and other soft tissue forms.

Staff writer Chloe Wittry can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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