Collaboration eyes improved cancer drug delivery

by Elizabeth Kumru, UNMC public relations | August 24, 2015

Image with caption: Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D.

Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D.

UNMC and University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill nanomedicine researchers received a five-year grant to study whether the properties of certain nanomaterials can improve the delivery of cancer treatments to their tumor targets.

The $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will fund a collaborative research effort between scientists at UNMC and at UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

The researchers plan to study whether the use of a drug carrying nanoparticle materials designed at UNMC called the core-shell nanogel can better penetrate tumors if it is soft, or elastic, rather than a solid particle.

"We will identify how the softness of the particles affect delivery of cancer therapeutics," said Tatiana Bronich, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences in UNMC's College of Pharmacy and co-director of the Center for Drug Delivery and Nanomedicine (CDDN). "Currently, very little is known about how mechanical flexibility can affect the biological properties of engineered nano particles."

Dr. Bronich and UNC's Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., D.Sc., are two of the three principal investigators on the project. Dr. Kabanov, former director of UNMC's CDDN, is now professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, a member of UNC Lineberger and director of the school's Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery.

The NIH grant was awarded through the Innovative Research in Cancer Nanotechnology initiative to fund multi-disciplinary cancer nanotechnology research projects that aim to address major barriers in cancer biology or oncology. Dr. Bronich said the grant awarded to UNMC and UNC attempts to address multiple barriers in cancer treatment.

The researchers are studying nanomaterials to potentially overcome delivery-related problems that were obstacles to translating promising small-molecule cancer therapeutics into the clinic. Specifically, the core soft-shell nanogels they will study are designed to be less "sticky," which they believe can cut down on side effects to the body outside of the tumor.

They also believe that their properties can be controlled to modify their distribution and tumor penetration. The drug delivery study will target triple negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive breast cancer type that currently lacks targeted treatments.

"This study is not designed to develop a specific cancer therapeutic agent," Dr. Kabanov said. "We are looking to make fundamental observations to address problems that can help us make better nanotherapeutics down the road.