Nanotech investigations receive federal boost

UT Southwestern is among five institutions selected by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to share more than $18 million over five years to study therapies and diagnostic tools that use nanotechnologies to address heart and lung diseases.

The funds will support five years of nanotechnology research at
UT Southwestern, as well as projects at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Texas A&M University; the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of California, Berkeley. UT Southwestern will receive about $1.1 million.

Carolyn Cannon

Nanoparticles are materials one thousand times smaller than the width of a single strand of hair. Scientists can custom-engineer these particles to latch onto imaging agents and therapies such as drugs or chemotherapies in order to reach specific targets within an individual.

Dr. Carolyn Cannon, assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and a principal investigator of the study, said her team will work with colleagues to develop nanoparticles that could be used to treat individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), a life-threatening genetic disease in which patients suffer from thick mucus and other secretions that clog their lungs, pancreas and intestines. Individuals with CF face repeated lung infections.

“Nanotechnology provides the ability to deliver tiny payloads directly to bacteria and human cells, including tumor cells, to manipulate cellular pathways, and to introduce genes and proteins into cells,” Dr. Cannon said. “We’re very excited about the therapeutic possibilities that may result from this project. We hope to target novel antimicrobials specifically to infected areas using cutting-edge nanotechnology that will allow us to reduce dramatically the dose required for a therapeutic effect.

“Additionally, nanoparticle systems allow co-delivery of both antimicrobials and agents to block resistance to the antimicrobials, further extending their utility.”

Dr. Cannon previously has shown in mice that silver-based therapeutic agents act as antimicrobials and can be used to treat lung infections. Her findings have also demonstrated that by using nanoparticles to deliver those treatments, it is possible to increase the treatment’s effectiveness as well as to reduce the required dose.

Dr. Cannon will use NHLBI funds to complete research required before she and her colleagues can begin clinical trials in people with cystic fibrosis. Dr. Cannon’s collaborators at Texas A&M will be developing novel agents to treat other infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria.

“We speculate that if the approach works, it may significantly reduce or even eliminate drug side effects,” Dr. Cannon said.

The multi-institutional effort is part of the NHLBI’s Programs for Nanotechnology Research, which was initially funded in 2005 to help researchers develop new tools to both detect and deliver treatments for heart, lung and blood diseases. The institute recently renewed the program with grants totaling $65 million

Week of Jan. 15-21, 2011 /