Materials Day Focuses on Health Care

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126 Researchers Convene on Campus

By Michael G Seele

Prof. Mark Grinstaff was among the presenters at the Nanomaterials in Medicine symposium.
Prof. Mark Grinstaff was among the presenters at the Nanomaterials in Medicine symposium.

One hundred and twenty six materials researchers from as near as Boston and as far away as California and Iran convened in the Photonics Center on September 25 for the BU Materials Day symposium, “Nanomaterials in Medicine: Improving Healthcare Through Small Innovations.”

The day-long event featured an array of speakers who addressed the promise and use of nanomaterials in drug delivery, biomedical imaging, and fighting cancer and infectious diseases.

Dean Kenneth Lutchen welcomed the symposium participants and noted the wide-ranging, interdisciplinary strength of the College of Engineering’s Materials Science & Engineering Division. Materials research, he said, will play an important role in advancing society, particularly in healthcare.

“The current challenges facing health care call for biomaterials solutions,” he said. “It is an inherently complex, multi-scale problem you are trying to address.”

Two College of Engineering faculty affiliated with MSE — Professor Mark Grinstaff (Chemistry, BME) and Assistant Professor Allison Dennis (BME) — made presentations at the symposium.

Grinstaff’s presentation focused on his lab’s work in using drug-infused nanoparticles to treat mesothelioma, a highly fatal cancer associated with asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma progresses locally, Grinstaff noted, and current chemotherapy treatments — which infuse toxic drugs throughout the body for a relatively brief period — have not been effective.

Grinstaff’s approach has been to develop nanoparticles on the order of 100 nanometers that are infused with the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel. The particles are small enough to be admitted into a cancer cell, where the more acidic environment causes the nanoparticles to expand to 1,000 nanometers and begin releasing the drug. The cells are not able to quickly expel the nanoparticles, which can release paxlitaxel into the cell — and only the cell — for up to two weeks.

The research has produced excellent results in vivo, Grinstaff noted, and he hopes that this approach may also benefit patients suffering from breast, lung and ovarian cancers.

Dennis’ presentation focused on her work with quantum dots, which she described as semi-conductor nanocrystals with optical properties. Quantum dots have many applications in solid-state lighting and consumer electronics, as well as biomedical imaging.

She described how her lab has been working to manipulate the dots to change the color of light they emit. Dots emitting multiple colors can be used to more effectively conduct tissue-depth imaging, she said. Some of the dots are exceptionally bright, making their detection easier.

More recently, she said, she has been working with the chemistry of quantum dots in order to find an alternative to the toxic element cadmium so the dots can be used more readily in biomedical applications.

Other speakers and their topics at the symposium included:

  • Vladimir Torchilin, distinguished professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Northeastern University, “Stimuli-sensitive Combination Nanopreparations of siRNA and Chemotherapeutic Drugs to Treat Multidrug Resistant Cancer.”
  • Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Senior Vice President of Drug Discovery Muthiah Manoharan, “Making Drugs Out of siRNAs.”
  • University of California, Los Angeles professor of chemistry and biochemistry Heather Maynard, “Bio-inspired and Degradable Nanomaterials for Delivery of Proteins.”
  • University of Washington bioengineering Professor Patrick Stayton, “Intracellular Delivery of Biologic Drugs Diagnostics.”
  • Niren Murthy, professor of bioengineering at the University of California Berkeley, “New Strategies for Imaging Infectious Diseases and Oxidative Stress.”
  • Anna Moore, professor of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, “Image-guided RNA-based Cancer Therapies.”
  • University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor of bioengineering Andrew Tsourkas, “Engineering Targeted Nanoparticles for Molecular Imaging and Therapeutic Applications.”

Assoc. Prof. Tyrone Porter (ME, MSE) organized the symposium and moderated the discussions that followed each presentation.

“Nanomaterials in medicine is such a timely subject as we have seen unprecedented activity in the design and production of biologically and medically relevant materials on the nanoscale,” Porter said. “The symposium featured leaders in the field who are pushing the boundaries to generate novel constructs and platforms that ultimately will revolutionize how we image, diagnose, detect, and treat disease.”