For the past decade, Richard J. Price, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer and associate professor at the University of Virginia, has conducted pioneering research in ultrasound targeted therapeutics. His international reputation and accomplishments make him an ideal fit for his new job as Research Director at the UVA’s Focused Ultrasound Center.
While much of Price’s research has focused on nanoparticles and microbubbles, he is also a widely recognized authority on the mechanisms of cardiovascular blood vessel growth. Currently, he divides his time between both research interests.
Treating pediatric brain tumors
In one of his most innovative projects, Price is exploring the use of controlled-release nanoparticles, contrast agent microbubbles and MR-guided focused ultrasound to treat brain cancer.
Early funding for the project – seed money, as Price calls it – came from the FUS Foundation’s Research Awards Program. Follow-on funding came in the form of a Hartwell Foundation Individual Biomedical Research Award, a highly competitive and prestigious honor.
In his Hartwell-funded project, Price is concentrating on developing a new treatment for pediatric brain tumors. (The project is entitled, “Targeted Delivery of Chemotherapeutic Controlled-Release Nanoparticles to Common Pediatric Brain Tumors Using Contrast Agent Microbubbles and Ultrasound.”) Although clinical trials are still years away, Price believes the new, noninvasive treatment could ultimately replace radiation therapy for children with brain tumors.
Widely used to treat brain tumors, radiation can have debilitating side effects on young, still developing brains. Those side effects include permanent cognitive deficits, learning disabilities and psychological disorders.
“When it comes to treating pediatric brain tumors, clinicians often find themselves in a Catch 22 situation. On one hand, they can wait until the child is older and has a more developed brain. However, waiting could allow uncontrollable tumor growth. On the other hand, they can proceed with radiation therapy knowing that permanent brain damage can occur,” Price observes. “By eliminating the use of radiation, our approach avoids debilitating side-effects.”
Crossing the Blood Brain Barrier
Price is a leading researcher in ultrasound-mediated techniques to deliver drugs across the normally impervious blood brain barrier (BBB). Like others exploring such techniques, Price uses pulses of low intensity focused ultrasound to temporarily open the BBB so drugs can pass through. However, his work has a unique focus: developing polymer-coated nanoparticles that slowly biodegrade and deposit their therapeutic contents on brain tumors over an extended timeframe. “We’re developing a broad platform that can be used to move lots of different drugs across the blood brain barrier,” he explains.
Expanding Worldwide Research Collaborations
Collaboration will be a key theme for Price in his new position as Research Director at the UVA Focused Ultrasound Center. In addition to encouraging collaborations among various departments within UVA, he would like to create a travel grant program to allow exchanges of site visits between researchers from UVA and elsewhere.
Written by Ellen C. McKenna