The goal of this program is to generate nanoparticles targeted to cancer cells or specific bacteria. The types of particles made will not contain toxic heavy metals, and will be considered non-toxic to humans: gold particles, lanthanum fluoride (LaF3), and indium phosphide (InP). The particles' physical properties allow them to be detected with a variety of imaging methods: fluorescence, luminescence, and/or tomography. They can thus indicate the presence of cancer or infection in a patient, or can serve as tools for enumerating bacteria in the environment. The latter has applications ranging from food safety to the search for life on Mars.
The same particles can also, at the same time, destroy the cancer cells or bacteria. They can aid uptake of therapeutic drugs by cells and inhibit drug efflux, which aids in treating drug-resistant diseases. When excited by light or ionising radiation, the particles release reactive radicals that damage tissue. The radius of action of the radicals is very small--less than a cell diameter--making this therapy very targeted. This could allow for radiotherapy treatments with fewer side effects, aiding patient quality of life.
The challenge is to target the particles effectively to tumours or bacteria. This program aims to target specific diseases for which no effective treatment exist, such as melanoma, a skin cancer originating from melanocytes. This cancer spreads rapidly to the liver, lungs, and brain, and is highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. A nanoparticle-based radiosensitizing therapy might be able to overcome this resistance.