FIU College of Engineering and Computing

Florida International University - Electrical and Computer Engineering
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The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant to researchers from Florida International University’s College of Engineering & Computing and Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine who are using externally programmed “smart” nanoparticles to target cancer cells with unprecedented high specificity.

The $405,000 grant will help further research by the team of the principal investigator (PI) Sakhrat Khizroev, Ph.D., Professor of Cellular Biology at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering and Computing, and the Co-PI Carolyn Runowicz, M.D., Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics and Executive Dean of Academic Affairs at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. The groundbreaking nanotechnology was developed by the investigators jointly with Rakesh Guduru, Ph.D., and Professor Ping Liang, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of California, Riverside.

Long considered the gold standard in treating cancer, chemotherapy is a powerful approach to kill cancer cells. However, the current approaches are limited because of the devastating side effects due to the relatively low specificity of chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells along with healthy cells.

The difficulty of the current state of chemotherapy, Khizroev explained, originates in the chemistry-based approach to develop drugs that are specific to certain cancer types and certain stages of the cancer development. What the researchers propose is to exploit the fundamental physics along with the chemistry as the underlying approach to the cancer treatment. Using magneto-electric nanoparticles (MENs) as drug carriers, they can use external magnetic fields to control local electric fields.

Because the electric properties are drastically different between cancer and healthy cells of the same type, they can tailor the electric fields so that the drug-loaded MENs can easily penetrate inside the cancer cells while sparing the healthy cells. Further, important RNAs/DNAs and other macromolecules and drugs can be delivered specifically into the cancer cells to control their proliferation.

“The nanotechnology allows us to program the nanoparticles so that only the cancer cells are targeted by the drug-loaded MENs via application of a low-energy external magnetic field,” Khizroev explained. “Because of the field-controlled targeting capability, the proposed nanotechnology creates a new paradigm of remotely controlled cancer treatment that can be universally applied for treatment of any cancer type.”

This research continues the multidisciplinary collaboration. Last year, the team published a study in Nature’s Scientific Reports describing what could be a breakthrough in the treatment of ovarian cancer by using nanotechnology to deliver cancer-killing drugs. In their lab experiments, Paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug used to treat ovarian cancer, was loaded onto a magneto-electric nanoparticle, and using an electric field the drug penetrated into the tumor cells completely destroying the tumor within 24 hours, while sparing normal ovarian cells.

“This research at the intersection of nanoengineering and medicine is groundbreaking and may result in a very viable treatment of cancer in the near future,” Khizroev said.

by James Hellegaard