September 25, 2015

Cornell to Open $10M Nanotechnology Center

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Cornell University is partnering with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to open a new $10 million Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence aimed at integrating nanotechnology into cancer care applications, the University announced Thursday.

The center, called the MSKCC-Cornell Center for Translation of Cancer Nanomedicines, will focus on using nanotechnology to treat skin and brain cancers. Nanotechnology deals with the manipulation of matter on atomic and subatomic scales, and thus can be useful in targeting the genetic abnormalities that lead to cancerous growths.

The Cornell-MSKCC Center is made possible by a $8.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. Sloan Kettering then added more than $1.9 million, according to the University. The center’s operation will span between New York City and Ithaca — its Manhattan base will be in Sloan Kettering and its Ithaca counterpart will be housed in Duffield Hall.

“We couldn’t be more proud to have this center supporting the partnership between Cornell and MSKCC,” Engineering Dean Lance Collins said in a University press release.

The center’s operations will be based in research on the “development and translation of Cornell dots, or C dots – silica-organic hybrid nanoparticles smaller than 10 nanometers in size designed to either adhere to and light up cancer cells or quickly leave the body,” the University said. Early clinical trials have indicated that C dots may lead to a “transformative research and development of new clinically promising classes of nanoparticles and their applications in cancer diagnostics, surgery and targeted drug delivery,” according to the University.

C dots are a Cornellian creation — invented more than decade ago, they are the product of work by Prof. Uli Wiesner, materials science and engineering. Weisner will co-direct the center with Prof. Michelle Bradbury, radiology, Weill Cornell Medical College, director of intraoperative imaging at MSKCC. Weisner said in the release that, after more than 10 years of work on C dots, he finds it “very rewarding” to see it “now all coming to fruition.”

While little is currently known about the practical implication of C dots on cancer treatment, early trials have shown them to be successful in detecting melanoma metastases, and clinical trials attempting to discern their value in brain cancer treatment are ongoing.

“This moment is the culmination of many years of innovative work by many exceptional researchers at both institutions. Without the foundational success of C dots, we likely would not have been successful with the grant,” Collins said.

The center will focus purely on pre-clinical research rather than clinical application, according to the release. However, it plans to partner with a start-up which will then raise funds to help turn the center’s research into clinical success with human patients.

Weisner emphasized the difficulty of translating this kind of theoretical research into concrete patient care, and said that the center is an important step in achieving tangible results from C dot development.

“You can’t do this alone,” Wiesner said in the release. “The medical community doesn’t have enough know-how of nanomaterials, and we, the scientists and engineers, don’t have enough experience in the medical area. But to keep a team together for over 10 years to successfully translate an idea from conception to human clinical trials is not easy.”

Instead, the center will work on examining the “core science behind C dots.” They will also work on creating different colored particles that may be able to help surgeons identify tumors during surgery and investigate whether C dots can be used to treat tumors as well as detect them.

“This is a stamp of approval by the research and medical communities that the early risk we took by focusing solely on sub-10 nanometer particles for clinical translation in the field of cancer nanomedicine was the right decision,” Wiesner said.