Because these particles attach to specific cells, they could serve as tracers, tagged with both a fluorescent dye and radiolabelled and visualized with optical and PET imaging to detect tumor cells and metastases in the body more effectively than the tracers we use today. They may even potentially be used by surgeons right in the operating room to assess the extent of tumor spread. Sentinel lymph node mapping (a staging procedure using these tracers to see if the first node to which cancer cells would spread actually contains cancer cells) is one such study that is under way in animal models, in collaboration with the Head and Neck Service in the Department of Surgery. In addition, we are in the process of attaching therapeutic drugs to these nanoparticles, so they may also have a place in cancer therapy. These studies began in the laboratory and are moving into clinical trials in collaboration with the Department of Surgery.
With my colleagues in the Brain Tumor Center, I am studying the use of a piece of a protein called a peptide which is attached to a chemotherapy drug for the treatment of brain tumors. This complex could possibly be more successful in passing through the blood-brain barrier and get to tumor cells more effectively than conventional drugs. I am also evaluating new ways to combine MRI findings with data from PET scanning to gain more knowledge about the molecular biology of brain tumors.
In all of my research, my goal is to develop novel approaches that increase our ability to target tumor cells to improve the diagnosis, staging, and treatment of cancers, and to ultimately improve survival and prognosis for patients.