Using self-assembly and molecular engineering, our group creates several different nanoparticle constructs to be used in cancer diagnosis and therapy. A large research effort concentrates on the use of cytotoxic peptides that cause apoptosis of malignant cells. Novel molecular design strategies have been developed to shield benign cells from the cytotoxic peptide using both peptide amphiphile based micelles and polyelectrolyte complex micelles. In collaboration with the Lesniak group, peptide amphiphile micelles are currently being investigated as chemotherapy carriers that can take advantage of the leaky vasculature and the enhance permeability and retention (EPR) effect that are characteristic to tumors.
Additionally, we are also pursuing the use of gene therapy as a cytostatic cancer treatment in collaboration with the Liu group. Specific microRNAs are known to regulate cancer stem cells, drug resistance, and dissemination while minimizing side effects. However, directly delivering miRNAs has not been effective. Our group is using our polyelectrolyte complex micelles platform as a vehicle to deliver miRNA. Also, we are designing nanoparticles that target cancer stem cells by conjugating antibody fragments to both peptide amphiphile and polyelectrolyte complex micelles.
Other thermoresponsive cancer therapies are being developed using high intensity focused ultrasound as a targeted release mechanism for the treatment of prostate cancer in collaboration with Dr. Ayetek Oto and Prof. Donald Vander Greind. The thermoresponsive therapy is based on polyelectrolyte complex micelles containing gene delivery vectors aimed at androgen receptors and gadolinium chelates for imaging.