Northwestern University has received a five-year, $11.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to use nanotechnology to develop next-generation cancer treatments.

Extensive efforts to battle cancer during the last few decades have resulted in overall cancer death rates declining. Major challenges still remain, however, in understanding, detecting and treating this highly complex disease, and cancer continues to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide.

With the NCI support, the new Northwestern University Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence will use nucleic-acid-based nanoconstructs called Spherical Nucleic Acids to gain access to intracellular environments, discover new aspects of cancer biology and create effective cancer treatment options.

SNAs are nontoxic to humans, making them a versatile tool in medicine. They were invented at Northwestern in 1996 and have been used for therapeutic purposes since 2010.

Under the direction of principal investigators, Chad A. Mirkin and Dr. Leonidas C. Platanias, the Northwestern CCNE combines the strengths and resources of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The center will unite scientists, engineers and clinicians from diverse fields, such as nanoscience, cancer biology, chemistry, materials science, physics, engineering and medicine. They will work towards the common goal of developing SNA nanostructures poised to enter the clinic as revolutionary, cancer-killing agents to improve and save the lives of patients suffering from glioblastoma multiforme and prostate cancer, two of the most deadly forms of cancer.

Recently, the field of nanotechnology has offered up a multitude of interesting structures, materials and tools that are showing promise in the development of new detection and treatment methodologies. These methods could permit highly efficacious, targeted and personalized solutions for the prediction of prognoses as well as for early diagnosis and treatment of patients struggling with advanced cancers.

In addition, nanoscience and technology are enabling fundamental discoveries in the fields of cancer biology, genetics and oncology. Within these realms, nucleic-acid-based nanostructures such as SNAs offer interesting opportunities, because they can be used to access and interact in unique ways with biological systems and structures, including cancer cells and tumors, modulating their intracellular genetic pathways and reprogramming their cellular biology.

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