The UK’s leading research funding agency, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, has awarded a £1.25 – about $1.9 million – grant to researchers at Imperial College and King’s College in London to develop a localized cancer treatment using three key technologies: heat-sensitive nanoparticles, magnetic resonance imaging and MR-guided focused ultrasound.
The goal of the three-year project is to improve the quality and efficacy of cancer therapy. Researchers anticipate that the new approach will reduce systemic toxicity and related side effects, deliver more of the drug dose to tumor sites and enable clinicians to tailor treatments to individual patients.
As co-investigator Professor Wladyslaw M. Gedroyc noted, “Our approach, once realized, could transform cancer chemotherapy into a simple outpatient treatment with absolutely minimal side-effect problems.”
The multi-disciplinary project team includes engineering, physical science and medical researchers. Professor Andrew Miller, director of the Genetic Therapies Centre (GTC) at Imperial College, is serving as principal investigator and working in close collaboration with Dr. Maya Thanou of Pharmaceutical Sciences at King’s College. Over the past few years, the GTC has developed proprietary tool-kits of chemical components from which modular, tailor-made, nanoparticles can be assembled. The GTC and King’s laboratories will use the tool kits to design and formulate thermo-sensitive drug carrier nanoparticles that MRI can observe accumulating in cancerous lesions (fibroids or tumors) in real time and in vivo. The nanoparticles will be designed to be thermally activated by MR-guided FUS and to release their contents on targeted lesions and nowhere else.
To improve understanding of how nanoparticles move from blood vessels into tumors and permeate tissue, a team led by Professor Yun Xu of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College will perform molecular modelling work and fluid dynamics studies. The team’s research will help determine the optimal size for nanoparticles and other physical properties so maximum tumor penetration is attained.
Professor Gedroyc will oversee proof of therapy studies at the St Mary’s Hospital MRI/MR-guided FUS facility and at Hammersmith Hospital, both of which are affiliated with Imperial College. Dr Justin Stebbing, an oncologist at Imperial College, will provide expertise in cancer therapeutics, animal models of cancer and clinical care.
As one of two healthcare partners for this project, the FUS Foundation will provide access to a global network of scientists investigating FUS applications as well as technical advice and support throughout the project. The second healthcare partner, Antisoma, is a biotechnology company specializing in the development of novel cancer drugs. It will provide technical expertise and access to facilities.
Written by Ellen C., McKenna