Since X-rays were discovered more than a century ago, triggering a revolution in medical imaging, clinicians have sought more powerful ways to "see" into the human body.
Now, with a $1.1 million grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation, researchers in the University at Buffalo's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics are turning their expertise in nanomedicine to the development of new, nanoparticle-based multi-probe systems, launching a new generation of medical imaging. The grant will fund research in which two or more medical imaging techniques are combined to provide complementary information.
Part of a new field called nanobiotechnology, the UB scientists are designing these nanoparticle systems to contain multiple contrast agents for different imaging medical techniques.
The goal is to diagnose cancer and other diseases in their earliest stages by providing far more comprehensive data to clinicians.
"Ultimately, clinicians want the most complete data possible that they can gather from medical images, ranging from tissue structure to metabolic processes to molecular markers," said Paras Prasad, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.
"We are aiming to provide them with such data by developing nanoparticle platforms capable of carrying multiple contrast agents for complementary medical imaging techniques in the same nano-sized package," he said.
Once injected with these multimodal nanoparticles, the patient can undergo several imaging tests, the results of which will be combined to provide more comprehensive and complementary information, such as correlations between molecular and morphological changes at the cellular level.
The result is a far more sensitive and comprehensive method of detecting the presence or progression of a disease.
"At the same time, these imaging agents will provide pharmaceutical researchers and clinicians with powerful tools for more precise monitoring and tracking of drug action in real-time," said Prasad.
The multimodal platforms underway in Prasad's group are based on versatile nanoparticles that the UB researchers have developed with previous Oishei Foundation funding that have been shown to be effective in a broad range of therapeutic applications.
"The fields of nanomedicine in which Dr. Prasad and his teams are working are developing extremely rapidly, and they are at the forefront," said Thomas E. Baker, president of the foundation. "The work of these grants has tremendous potential for significantly improving both the diagnostic capabilities of physicians and the clinical outcomes of patients."
The research also is being conducted with partial funding from UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, a major supporter of the nanomedicine program at the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotoncs. Prasad is affiliated with the Bioengineering/Tissue Engineering Team at the Center of Excellence.
"This new imaging work represents an exciting and timely extension of our existing nanomedicine portfolio that will be particularly important for the Center of Excellence initiatives in neurodegenerative disease and cancer," said Bruce A. Holm, UB senior vice provost and executive director of the Center of Excellence. "This research not only crosses a variety of UB 2020 Strategic Strength areas, but holds enormous promise for commercialization potential as well."
The UB institute's new emphasis on application of nanobiotechnology to medical imaging also distinguishes it from other nanotechnology research centers throughout the U.S., while enriching its current collaborations with The Johns Hopkins University, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and others.
The nanoprobes are being developed for use with:
-- Optical imaging techniques, especially those in which fluorescence and Raman scattering can probe the intracellular distribution of molecular events that are early signals of disease or responses to drugs.
-- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in which fluorine nuclear probes would be developed using the nanoparticles, providing more selective targeting of specific biological sites.
-- Positron emission tomography (PET), in which radioisotopes are incorporated inside nanoparticles as contrast agents for more sensitive assessments of drug efficacy during therapy.
-- Computed tomography (CT) and single photon emission computer tomography (SPECT), in which radio-opaque ions are incorporated inside nanoparticles as contrast agents for improved in vivo imaging.
The Oishei grant, "Developing New Advances in Medical Imaging through Nanotechnology," will be used in part to recruit and support a research professor to provide expertise in ultrasound imaging, as well as postdoctoral fellows and graduate students who will focus on the development of multimodal nanoprobes for medical imaging.