CIHR Funding to Engineer Novel Transformable Nanoparticles for Targeted Drug Delivery to Brain Cancer Cells

Professors Shirley X.Y. Wu and Jeffrey Henderson of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, along with Professor A.M. Rauth at the Ontario Cancer Institute, have recently received a 5-year operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to engineer novel transformable nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery to brain cancer cells.

According to the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada, an estimated 55,000 Canadians currently live with a brain tumour, while another 27 Canadians are diagnosed with a brain tumour every day. Primary brain tumours such as glioblastoma are the leading cause of solid tumor death in children under 20 and the third leading cause in young adults aged 20-39. Moreover, approximately 20-40% of people with primary tumors at other sites – such as the skin, breast, colon, lungs, and prostate – will experience cancer cell spread to the brain. For these patients, the average survival, even with aggressive treatment, is less than one year.

Unfortunately, the current treatment for brain tumors is ineffective and causes many side effects. Treatments like chemotherapy and targeted therapy often fail because of the inability of the therapeutic agents to penetrate into the brain and targeting the cancer cells due to a major physiological barrier, the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and non-specificity of the agents. The BBB is very effective in protecting the brain from outside agents, which is a tremendous asset in keeping healthy brains healthy. However, the presence of this protective barrier has posed a significant problem for health sciences researchers seeking to treat brain-related disease.

To overcome the resistance caused by the BBB, Professor Wu and team will leverage the BBB-crossing nanotechnology platform developed in her laboratory to design a “smart” nanoparticle drug carrier that will change size and shape at the cancer region. This flexible design allows the nanoparticle to effectively navigate through the BBB, penetrate the tumor and selectively deliver potent anticancer drugs into the cancer cells, killing them while sparing the healthy brain cells from harm.

Over the life of this project, Professors Wu, Henderson, and Rauth expect to prove that these nanoparticle drug carriers can be an effective tool to treat brain cancer.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s health research investment agency. Created in 2000, the mission of this independent agency is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian healthcare system.