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Issue Date: April 16-30, 2008, Posted On: 4/21/2008

Professor explores nanotech for cancer



Mansoor Amiji

Mansoor Amiji is working on finding a way to deliver drugs to cancer patients using nanomedicine. 

Amiji, 44, an associate department chairman in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department at Northeastern University's School of Pharmacy, is involved with a research group funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute for the project, which involves the combination of nanotechnology and medicine to treat cancer patients.

Nanomedicine treats diseases, like cancer, at the molecular level, said Amiji. Such technology could be used as a way to target the sick part of a person's body, delivering medicine to the diseased area without harming the rest of the body, he said. In nanomedicine, drugs are delivered to cancer cells through nanoparticles, which are so small that they are able to penetrate through to the protein and DNA inside of the cells of diseased tissues. They are designed to carry anti-cancer drugs and bring that medication all the way to the diseased cells in a person's body without harming the healthy cells.

There is much excitement about nanomedicine in the medical community for disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment, said Amiji, who is also the co-director of the Nanomedicine Education and Research Consortium at Northeastern.     

One of the main problems Amiji's group is examining is the cancer patient relapses that occur when cancer cells become resistant to medication. Often times when these relapses occur, doctors give these patients larger doses of the same medication they were taking before, which can raise the dosage of toxicity throughout the body, leading to heart, kidney or liver failure. Amiji calls the scenario a "vicious cycle," in which patients die from the treatment rather than the cancer. He believes this kind of "controlled poisoning" is not a rational strategy to fight cancer.

Using nanoparticles, Amiji's group is looking at how to get more of the drug to the right place in the body and keep it there longer to affect resistant cells. He said the use of nanoparticles has tremendous potential and is an opportunity to fight cancer. 

In his group, Amiji is collaborating with chemists, physicists and other researchers from Northeastern University, an oncology group from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and also with another team from Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I. His research is funded by a $1.6 million four-year grant. The group is in its third year of research and plans to apply for a grant renewal, and Amiji said the effort is heavily centered on bringing the research to the patient's bed.

"It's not just something that people will think, •Oh, it's a pie in the sky and this is never going to affect patients.' It's really focused on how to bring this to the patient level," he said.   

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