Engineer Receives $1.5 Million Grant for Nanoparticle Cancer Research

June 30, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — A biomedical engineering assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded a $1.5 million National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute grant to conduct nanoparticle cancer research.

Grant recipient James Tunnell says the five-year project will include collaboration with other researchers from the university, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the University of California at Irvine.

The project will focus on the development of molecular imaging technologies for the screening, diagnosis and therapy of cancer. Recent advancements in nanotechnologies have produced a class of optically active metal particles with highly desirable molecular and optical properties suitable for detection and treatment.

"We will design nanoparticles that can be injected into the bloodstream where they will seek out and attach themselves to cancer cells within the body," Tunnell says. "In this case, the particles themselves are identifying the cancer cells, and we can then image the nanoparticles in order to find the cancer."

Using weak levels of light, the particles act as imaging agents making it possible to locate cancer cells. Then, higher light levels can be used to heat the same particles, killing the cancer cells while leaving nearby healthy cells unharmed.

"Our goal is to detect and treat cancer at the cellular level and at its earliest stage when survival rates are highest," Tunnell says.

The collaborators on the project include the university's Brian Korgel, chemical engineering professor, and Pengyu Ren, biomedical engineering assistant professor; M.D. Anderson's Sunil Krishnan and the University of California at Irvine's Anthony Durkin and David Cuccia.

For more information, contact: Daniel Vargas;  James Tunnell, Biomedical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering College of Engineering, 512-232-2110.