BU Clinical and Translational Science Institute Supports New, Cutting-Edge Technology
Altering the way drugs are delivered to patients with multidrug resistant cancer is a real game changer. Tyrone Porter, PhD, associate professor in the departments of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering combines ultrasound technology with chemistry and biomedical engineering to discover new methods for diagnosing and treating diseases. As founder and principal investigator of the Nanomedicine and Medical Acoustics Laboratory (NanoMedAL) and associate director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology, Porter’s innovative research led to a pilot award co-funded by the BU CTSI and Center for Nanotechnology and Nanobiotechnology in 2011.
The BU Clinical and Translational Science Institute (BU CTSI) supports innovative ideas and new discoveries that can transform health and the process of treating diseases by providing BU investigators with services, resources and funding opportunities across career stages. In catalyzing this innovation, the BU CTSI offers an integrated pilot program that brings together the provost of BU Medical Campus, the Evans Interdisciplinary Research Center, the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanobiotechnology, and the Office of Technology Development.
Porter and his lab collaborated with David Seldin, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and chief of the Hematology-Oncology Section at Boston Medical Center, to explore novel methods for treating multidrug resistant (MDR) breast cancer. MDR cancer cells are unresponsive to chemotherapy due to upregulated defense mechanisms that protect the cells against the cytotoxic agents. Consequently, the treatment options for MDR cancer cells are limited and many patients die; discovering and developing new ways to treat these cells and tumors is critical for patient survival.
Porter’s innovative research, “Targeted siRNA Delivery for Sensitizing Multidrug Resistant Cancer Cells to Chemotherapy,” aims to address this problem by delivering small interfering RNA specifically to MDR cancer cells that block the defense mechanisms and restore the chemosensitivity of the cancer cells. The siRNA must be packaged within nanoparticles in order to avoid enzymatic degradation in the bloodstream.
However, these nanoparticles have several weaknesses that must be addressed before translation to the clinical setting. “Nanoparticles formed from either lipids or polymers can be used to package drugs and target delivery to diseased cells and tissue specifically,” explains Porter. “Unfortunately, nanoparticles formed from only lipids or polymers suffer from a variety of weaknesses, including poor circulation time, premature leakage of contents, and lack of specificity. We are developing lipid-polymer hybrid nanoparticles to overcome these weaknesses and improve the efficacy and clinical utility of targeted delivery of small molecule drugs and nucleic acid-based therapeutics.”
Porter and his lab were able to successfully make nanoparticles containing siRNA and, in the summer of 2012, conducted testing of transfection efficiency. Porter says he is appreciative of the BU CTSI pilot grant, which has funded some truly pioneering work. “The CTSI pilot grant provided seed funding to explore new and exciting research directions,” says Porter. “As a result of the pilot grant, my group is now exploring novel formulations of stimuli-responsive nanoparticles that can be used for targeted delivery of nucleic acid therapeutics that will allow for the treatment of diseases at the genetic level.”
Porter plans to submit future proposals for continued funding including a R01, which is a large research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as from local biotechnology companies that are working in gene and siRNA delivery.