September 08, 2014 8:30AM
The next big thing in the battle against cancer and other diseases is very, very small.
In his lab at PSU, Santimukul Santra is conducting research on the use of polymeric and iron oxide nanotheranostics as potential delivery methods for life-saving anti-cancer drugs. As he works, Santra imagines a time in the not-too-distant future when treatments for cancer and a host of other diseases will be personalized, targeted and free of the debilitating and often dangerous side effects of some current therapies, thanks to the use of these tiny structures and nanobiotechnologies.
“This is my dream,” Santra said.
Santra’s research, with eight other scientists in New York, Florida and Massachusetts, was published this year in “Nature Communications.
Microscopic nanoparticles are the future of personalized medicine, Santra said.
“(Nanoparticles) provide more surface area, more surface energy and thereby, more reactivity,” Santra said.
At the same time, they can be designed to interact only with certain types of cells within the body.
In the study, Santra and the other researchers used iron oxide nanoparticles (ferumoxytol) as a vehicle for delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to human prostate and breast cancer cells. They found that the drugs were delivered much more efficiently using the ferumoxytol than by traditional methods.
One big advantage of using ferumoxytol, Santra said, is that it’s already clinically approved and is used frequently in the treatment of iron deficiency and for MR Imaging. Because of its magnetic properties, iron oxide is also easily traced and monitored in the body.
Deaven Thompson, a junior biology major from Pittsburg, works in a polymer chemistry lab at the Kansas Polymer Research Center.
Once loaded with the cancer-fighting drug, the iron oxide nanoparticles act like microscopic packages that are small enough to pass through the kidneys and liver on their way throughout the body. When the nanoparticles encounter the cancer cells, they release their cargo, triggered by the specific pH of the cancer cell or enzymes it produces.
“That’s the magic of using nanomedicine to deliver therapeutic drugs directly to the disease site and this can be easily done by decorating the nanoparticles’ surface with receptor targeting molecules,” Santra said. “(You no longer have) the chemotherapy drug destroying the healthy cells along with the cancer cells.”
A great deal of work still remains before clinical trials can begin, but Santra said he believes the researchers’ use of the clinically approved ferumoxytol as a delivery system could speed the process.
Santra and Ram Gupta, whose research focuses on the use of polymers as degradable biomedical implants and as super capacitors, were recruited to PSU as part of the university’s new Polymer Chemistry Initiative. They have joined a team of more than a score of PSU researchers who have distinguished themselves in various aspects of polymer science.
Santra said he was attracted to continue his research at PSU because of the university’s new Polymer Chemistry Initiative.
“The Polymer Chemistry Initiative is an ideal platform for me to continue my nanotechnology research for fighting cancer and infectious diseases,” Santra said.
Specifically, he cited the relationship between the Department of Chemistry, the Kansas Polymer Research Center and the College of Technology and the facilities each contributes to support the initiative.
“We have cutting-edge research facilities. So whatever kind of research you want to do, you can do from here,” Santra said.
Santra came to PSU from the University of Central Florida where he did almost six years of post-doctoral research. There, he had more than 18 top-class peer-reviewed papers published and accumulated six U.S. patent applications.
Santra earned his Ph.D. in synthetic polymer chemistry and organic chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay.
What is a nanoparticle? A nanoparticle is a microscopic particle with at least one dimension less than 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter. Still confused? Imagine this: A human hair is about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide and a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. You get it – it’s really, really, REALLY small.
What is a polymer? Polymers are large molecules consisting of many repeating smaller units. There are both natural and synthetic polymers and they’re in you and all around you.
For more information, contact the PSU Department of Chemistry at 620-235-4748 or visit the Department of Chemistry website, www.pittstate.edu/department/chemistry.