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Nanotechnology to Treat Heart and Lungs

Nanoparticles are 1 billionth to 100 billionths of a meter in size. Scientists custom-engineer these tiny particles to deliver imaging agents or therapies, such as drugs, chemotherapies or genetic material to specific targets like tumors, a particular cell type or sites of inflammation.

An $18 million research program headed by Washington University School of Medicine will research therapies and diagnostic tools that use nanotechnology to treat heart and lung diseases.

The award, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will fund five years of research at Washington University and four collaborating institutions: Texas A&M University, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and the Universities of California, Santa Barbara and Berkeley.

“Nanoparticles have several advantages over the small molecules typically used in imaging and therapeutics,” says radiochemist and co-principal investigator Michael Welch, PhD. “Not only can we load them with agents that deliver therapies to specific targets, we can include imaging agents that help us track both the nanoparticles and the therapeutic agent and change the surface of the particles to customize the amount of time they spend in the body.”

The new initiative includes four principal research projects, two of which are being conducted by Washington University researchers. Steven Brody, MD, Washington University pulmonologist at Barnes- Jewish Hospital, and his team will use nanoparticles to diagnose and treat various forms of acute lung inflammation. The other group, led by Washington University radiologist Pamela Woodard, MD, will work to develop nanoparticles to help physicians detect early atherosclerosis—a condition in which artery walls thicken as the result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol.

A portion of the funds will support educational programs directed by Carolyn Anderson, PhD, a biochemist at Washington University. One goal of these programs, targeted to audiences ranging from fourth graders to postgraduate students, will be to stimulate interest in careers in medical nanotechnology development. 

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