The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a $7.9 million award from Cancer Research UK and the Brain Tumor Charity to its Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in support of nanotechnology research focused on treating brain tumors.
MIT researchers Paula Hammond, Michael Yaffe, and Forest White will use the grant to advance efforts to use nanoparticle technology to treat glioblastoma, the most aggressive and deadly type of brain tumor. Developed by Hammond, the technology employs nanoparticles a thousand times smaller than a human hair that can deliver multiple cancer drugs to the tumor site by holding them within layers of a protein, not unlike a Russian nesting doll. The protein coating helps the drugs cross the blood-brain barrier and penetrate hard-to-reach areas of the brain, while the nanoparticles contain signals that limit their action to tumor cells, leaving healthy cells unaffected.
The funding will enable the team at MIT to collaborate with teams in the United Kingdom and Europe on multiple drug therapies and determine which drugs should be combined within the nanoparticles, as well as the timing and order of release. Early research has shown that nanoparticles loaded with two different drugs can shrink glioblastomas in mice and kill lymphoma cells grown in the lab.
"Glioblastoma is particularly challenging because we want to get highly effective but toxic drug combinations safely across the blood-brain barrier but also want our nanoparticles to avoid healthy brain cells and only target the cancer cells," said Hammond. "We are very excited about this alliance between the MIT Koch Institute and our colleagues in Edinburgh to address these critical challenges."
(Photo credit: Stephen Morton, Kevin Shopowitz, Peter DeMuth)