To advance this promising technology, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded $16 million over five years to the School of Medicine to establish the Siteman Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (SCCNE). The NCI also awarded funding for six other Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs) around the United States.
Headed by Samuel A. Wickline, M.D., the SCCNE will research and apply nanotechnology for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Dr. Wickline, professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, physics, and cellular biology and a cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, along with Gregory M. Lanza, M.D., Ph.D., developed nano-scale particles that can home in on tumour cells to carry imaging agents and drug therapies directly to tumour sites. Dr. Lanza is associate professor of medicine and a cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Capable of supporting a wide variety of homing, imaging, and therapeutic agents, the nanotechnology offers several advantages over traditional techniques. It can provide more accurate visualization and characterization of tumours, revealing even tiny tumours in medical scans. It has the ability to focus chemotherapeutic drugs exclusively at tumour sites to alleviate unpleasant or risky side effects. And it offers more precise adaptation of treatment to the biochemical and molecular features of each patient's disease.
"We've entered an era of precisely targeted and individualized cancer therapy", Dr. Wickline stated. "Our nanotechnology will strongly affect the practice of medicine. And the grant from the NCI will allow us to build a highly effective collaborative network to bring the technology rapidly to clinical use in the treatment of cancer."
In addition to developing general oncology applications, the SCCNE will focus its efforts on breast cancer and melanoma detection and treatment. Some projects planned for the Center include targeting of multiple tumours for early detection of cancer, a nanoparticle-based contrast agent for ultrasound imaging and therapy of tumours, statistical tools to model the behaviour of nanoparticles in the body and novel nano-scale sensors for rapidly screening potential anticancer drugs in single cells.
"The investment in cancer-related nanotechnology by the NCI is a show of confidence that this technology will truly advance cancer treatment", stated Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. "By bringing these creative laboratory innovations to practical medical application, the SCCNE will become a vital part of the School of Medicine's BioMed 21 initiative."
The NCI began supporting the application of nanotechnology to cancer more than seven years ago and within the past year has created the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer as a comprehensive initiative to translate nanotechnology research into clinical practice in cancer medicine. The establishment of the seven CCNEs is part of this initiative.
"With the advent of the Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, we are particularly looking forward to new nanotech-based therapeutic delivery systems that could enhance the efficacy and tolerability of cancer treatments, an advance that would greatly benefit cancer patients", stated NCI Deputy Director Anna Barker, Ph.D.
Each CCNE is a multi-institutional hub. The SCCNE is a collaboration between Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the Siteman Cancer Center at the School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, several private sector companies including Kereos Inc. and large multinational corporations including Philips Medical Systems. The SCCNE will be housed in a newly constructed biotechnology laboratory complex on the east edge of the School of Medicine campus. Developed by CORTEX, the Center of Research, Technology & Entrepreneurial Exchange, the building is scheduled for completion in January 2006.
The other six CCNEs are at the University of North Carolina; the University of California, San Diego; Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology (joint centre); Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital (joint centre); Northwestern University; and the California Institute of Technology.
Washington University School of Medicine's full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.
Siteman Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center within a 200-mile radius of St. Louis. Siteman Cancer Center is composed of the combined cancer research and treatment programmes of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.