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NSTI’s Nanotech CancerNano 2006 Symposium Helps Researchers Take Nano’s Cancer Fight Beyond the Lab

Nano World News Speaks Exclusively to Mansoor Amiji, PhD, One of the Driving Forces of the CancerNano Symposium.
Hundreds of the world’s best-known and most-visionary cancer and nanotechnology researchers gathered together in Boston last month at NSTI Nanotech for a CancerNano 2006 Symposium to discuss next steps for taking promising cancer-fighting nanoresearch from the lab to clinical trials.

The CancerNano 2006 Symposium on Nanotechnology for Cancer Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment was co-produced by the Nano Science and Technology Institute (NSTI), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“We have a lot of exciting nanotechnology research going on throughout the country, and our main goal now is to expand the connections between the nanotech and cancer communities, and help get today’s cancer-focused nano research out of the labs and into clinical trials,” Mansoor Amiji, PhD, co-chair of the symposium told Nano World News. Amiji is also a noted cancer researcher focusing on using nano techniques for drug and gene therapy at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

CancerNano 2006 attracted leaders over the past decade in cancer research. Dr. Judah Folkman from Boston’s Children Hospital, credited with discovering the process by which tumors develop new blood vessels to feed and grow, delivered the CancerNano 2006 keynote, sharing with the audience the latest research in that field.

Dr. Folkman was joined by Dr. Rakesh Jain of Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital, who is conducting cutting-edge research on understanding the physiology and barriers to tumor transport. Dr. Jain told attendees that quantum dots, for instance, could be used for a wide variety of imaging at cellular and molecular levels, because, as it turns out, quantum dots are almost the same size as bio-molecules.

“Having these powerful names presenting at CancerNano 2006 really helped set the tone that this event was not about pie-in-the-sky technologies, and made it a serious symposium on how an exciting new area is impacting the state of cancer research,” Amiji told NWN.

Bridging the Gap Between Cancer, Nano Researcher

Bringing together hundreds of nanotech and cancer researchers at CancerNano 2006, Amiji said, was a uniquely powerful event for helping professional scientists on both sides of the aisle connect-the-dots and even educate skeptics.

“Scientists have a right to be skeptical of using nano to fight disease. They think about [the] ‘Fantastic Voyage’ movie and nano-bots swimming around in the body,” Amiji said. “We designed CancerNano 2006 to help answer their questions and show them possibilities for how nano can help them attack cancer today – and not 10 or 20 years from now.”

One such approach hotly discussed during CancerNano 2006 was using nano-formulation techniques that could unlock ways to cross the “blood-brain” barrier.

“Treating brain cancers can be a significant problem right now because when you put drugs into the bloodstream, there is a formidable barrier between the blood and the brain. We are looking at using nano-emulsions, where we would put nano-formulations of promising drugs into a safe oil-in-water emulsions with the oil droplets in nanometer length scales, to help ferry these drugs across that barrier.” Nano-scale drug formulations have already been approved by FDA for use for other diseases.

Cancer drug Abraxane from Abraxis Bioscience is designed as a next-gen nano-version of Taxol, a breast cancer treatment approved by the FDA last year. “Abraxanes’s use of nano-formulation is reducing toxicity of cancer treatment, and that should be promising for many future nanomedicines,” Amiji said.

The FDA has blessed other nano-techniques for cancer treatment. Estrasorb (Novavax) uses nano-formulation to create a topical hormone replacement therapy which patients can simply rub onto their skin. Doxil is another example of FDA-approved nano product that is prepared with liposomes from Alza Corporation, a unit of Johnson and Johnson. Lastly, Alza’s Macroflux device allows for microinjection of vaccines and small-molecule pharmaceuticals via super-small pathways in the skin. The approach enables virtually-pain free ongoing drug delivery for patients.

A Fresh Look at Today’s Cancer-Fighting Nano Projects

CancerNano 2006 highlighted many other promising nano-driven research projects, including:

  • In-body detection system based on quantum dots that can safely be inserted into the human body to find, detect and make images of cancer cells as early as possible (even before symptoms appear);
  • In-body gene and drug delivery systems that can be safely be inserted into the human body to target cancer cells directly (with time-release delivery of treatment drugs or gene therapy);
  • In-body monitoring and surveillance systems that detect cancer mutations (via triggers or genetic markers);
  • New nano-scale tools, protocols and methodologies for designing drugs for more efficient, targeted release into the system;
  • New nano-driven diagnostics that will enable cancer investigators to more quickly identify sub-molecular targets for research, clinical development and/or predict drug resistance.

CancerNano 2006 also addressed head-on issues related to government oversight and approvals with a high-powered panel of agency executives from the Alliance for Cancer Nanotechnology of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the newly-created Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL), whose job is to facilitate the regulatory review of nanotech-based technologies for cancer.

“NCL is a great resource because it can take your samples and do characterizations free of charge,” notes Amiji. “And, beyond that, they work with the FDA and NIST as partners, so through the NCL, researchers can get important guidance on a number of important lab-to-trial questions such as ‘Should we proceed?’ ‘Do you think we have a safe or effective approach?’’ or even ‘Are we doing this right?,’” Amiji said. “It’s a great one-stop resource and saves valuable time and funding concerns.”

Get Ready for CancerNano 2007

Next year, CancerNano 2007 will be held in conjunction with NSTI Nanotech 2007 May 20-25 in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. “We’re looking forward to bringing CancerNano to an area rich in medical research and entrepreneurship, and provide even more start-ups and the privately-funded commercialization community a way to participate in helping us move these exciting nano-cancer research programs into therapies and the marketplace.”

To view the program and abstracts from this year’s CancerNano Symposium in Boston, please visit feed of Nano World News

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