KINGSTON, R.I. -October 27, 2009Two University of Rhode Island associate professors, biophysicists Yana Reshetnyak and Oleg Andreev, have discovered a technology that can detect cancerous tumors and deliver treatment to them without the harming the healthy cells surrounding them, thereby significantly reducing side effects. The URI couple has attracted more than $6 million in grants in four years. In addition, a number of health care and pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in their work.
It is possible, says Andreev, that one day their detection method could be used as a universal procedure, similar to mammography or colonoscopies. Their harmless imaging test could locate a problem before the patient ever feels ill.
The key lies in the acidity level of cells. While normal cells maintain a pH of 7.4 with little variation, cancer cells, expend a great deal of energy as they rapidly proliferate, pumping protons outside and creating an extracellular pH level of 5.5 to 6.5. (The lower the number, the higher the acidity.)
While scientists have known about tumor acidity for years, they had not devised a way to target it. Donald Engelman in the molecular biophysics and biochemistry lab at Yale University discovered the peptide that targets acidity, but had not employed it until Reshetnyak joined his lab as a postdoctoral student in 2003. She and Andreev, then a senior scientist at an anticancer drug delivery company, suggested an investigation into the peptide's potential as cancer targeting agents.
In 2004, Reshetnyak and Andreev joined the Physics Department at URI and established a biological and medical physics laboratory. The couple continued their collaboration with Engleman and their investigation of the properties of the peptide, now called the pHLIP peptide. After making some modifications to it, they demonstrated that pHLIP could find a tumor in a mouse and deliver imaging or therapeutic agents specifical
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University of Rhode Island