Dr. Yang and Dr. Mao PIs of New NCI Nanotechnology Grant

September 2015

Dr. Lily Yang and Dr. Hui Mao's pancreatic cancer team, which focuses on novel imaging and targeted therapeutic agents for battling the disease, has been awarded a U01 Innovative Research in Cancer Nanotechnology grant. The team is one of only four programs that have received awards from all three funding phases of the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. The first phase began in 2005, and five-year funding for the third phase rolled out this month. The new U01 essentially extends the team's 2010-2015 Alliance-funded effort to design a magnetic nanoparticle strategy for targeted therapy and treatment monitoring for pancreatic cancer.

The Alliance is fervently dedicated to changing how cancer is diagnosed, treated, and prevented. Through its programs and initiatives, the organization is committed to building a community of researchers dedicated to using nanotechnology to develop new cancer interventions, and to translating these interventions to the clinical environment.

The team's new award received the NCI's highest impact score of 10, an uncommon ranking that denotes the review panel's opinion that the proposal could have a sustained, powerful influence on the field.

"Our primary aim is to devise a unique, targeted, multifunctional nanoparticle platform for overcoming the physical barriers of tumor stroma that obstruct drug delivery in pancreatic cancer so that we can efficiently deliver potent therapeutic agents into tumor cells," says Dr. Yang, the Nancy Panoz Chair of Surgery in Cancer Research, who is sharing PI status with her long-standing collaborator Dr. Mao, head of Emory's functional-molecular imaging and nanotechnology laboratory. "Stroma is the connective tissue that supports organs and provides nutrients and regulatory signals for proper cellular polarity and function. It becomes dense and fibrotic in pancreatic cancer, and creates barriers for drug delivery while cultivating aggressive biology and drug resistance. The development of a stroma-breaking nanoparticle platform could be a game changer in the treatment of pancreatic cancer as well as other stroma-rich cancers."

Using insights derived from their prior studies, including a more refined understanding of tumor stroma biology and structure and the identification of multimodal imaging-capable therapeutic nanoparticles for targeting particular cellular receptors in cancer and tumor stromal cells, Dr. Yang, Dr. Mao, surgical oncology division chief Dr. Charles Staley, minimally invasive pancreatic and liver surgery specialist Dr. David Kooby, medical oncologist Dr. Bassel El-Reyes, and nuclear medicine researcher Dr. Malgorzata Lipowska plan on using the grant to create new and even more powerful nanoparticle drugs for imaging, stromal-penetration, and enhanced targeted delivery of chemotherapy drugs.

The magnetic iron nanoparticles will be loaded with different types of drug molecules that can be released at the site of the tumor or even inside the tumor cells. The nanoparticles are tracked by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to allow visualization of drug delivery sites and treatment responses.

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