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For Release: September 17, 2010
Catharine Lamm, Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, at 603-646-3943 or; and
Mary Hawkins, Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth, at 603-653-3615 or

DMS, Thayer, NCCC to collaborate in $12.8m cancer nanotechnology project

Dartmouth's CCNE leaders, from left, are Karl Griswold, deputy director Keith Paulsen, P. Jack Hoopes, Brian Pogue, director Ian Baker, Steven Fiering, Jose Conejo-Garcia, Mary Jo Turk, Eugene Demidenko, and Tillman Gerngross.

Under a five-year, $12.8-million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) will join forces with Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in focusing on the goal of destroying malignant tumors with magnetic nanoparticles.

The award, which comes with designation as a Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE), places Dartmouth among the top centers in such research nationwide. In awarding the grant, NCI reviewers cited the Dartmouth CCNE for its leadership, its outstanding research team, its integrated and interdependent projects, and a longstanding culture of collaboration.

"The Dartmouth CCNE is the result of our vision for the enormous potential of nanotechnology to improve cancer diagnostics and therapy, and Dartmouth's unique ability to capitalize on that potential," says Mark Israel, M.D., director of the cancer center. "Our cancer nanotechnology working group brought together no less than 25 top-notch scientists, engineers and physicians from across Dartmouth to advance this program."

Ian Baker, Ph.D, Dartmouth's Sherman Fairchild Professor of Engineering, directs the CCNE program. The deputy director is Keith Paulsen, Ph.D., the Thayer School's Robert A. Pritzker Professor of Biomedical Engineering, a professor of radiology at DMS, director of the Advanced Imaging Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), and the co-director of the cancer center's Cancer Imaging and Radiobiology Research Program.

"While Dartmouth has multiple projects in cancer nanotechnology, the CCNE is focused specifically on magnetic hyperthermia cancer treatment," Baker says. "The treatment involves delivering nanoparticles to tumor cells and then applying an alternating magnetic field to heat the particles and destroy the tumor.

"The role of my work in materials science is to develop a new nanoparticle with an iron core that speeds up the heating process and results in faster, more effective, and safer treatment of the tumor. At the end of five years, we hope to have advanced to clinical trials."

While the Dartmouth CCNE will focus on breast and ovarian cancer, but the approach shows potential for treating many forms of cancer.

"We know how to kill breast cancer cells, but the challenge remains of how to do it without harming the rest of the body," says Tillman Gerngross, Ph.D., a professor of engineering at Thayer and one of the project leaders on the grant. "There are four basic parts to this effort: creating new nanoparticles; enabling the particles to target cancer cells; assessing their effectiveness in vitro; and testing them in appropriate model systems. We took an engineering approach to analyze these pieces and put them together in a way that made sense. Other institutions may have some of these same pieces, but I believe this level of collaboration is just easier at Dartmouth."

A core director of the nanotechnology working group describes as "unique" the shared commitment of 19 faculty investigators and more than a dozen graduate students to embracing and understanding each other's expertise.

"The most impressive aspect is the wide array of talent assembled into one research effort," says P. Jack Hoopes, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of surgery and of medicine at DMS, director of Dartmouth's surgery and radiation research laboratories, and an adjunct professor of engineering at Thayer. "Medical nanotechnology research and application requires insight into many distinct fields of study. The ability to collaborate across the artificial separations of academic disciplines continues to be a Dartmouth focus and strength."

As a CCNE, Dartmouth also becomes a member of NCI's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, a national resource for advancing future work in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment.

"This project is a natural outgrowth of Thayer's strategic focus on engineering in medicine--an effort we are pursuing with our colleagues in the medical school and cancer center," says Thayer School Dean Joseph Helble, a professor of engineering. "The M.D./M.S. program, the new undergraduate major in biomedical engineering sciences, several key faculty hires, and grants such as this are all part of our effort to tackle complex problems in medicine through collaboration between engineers and medical scientists."

In addition to Hoopes, project leaders and core directors from DMS include Lionel D. Lewis, M.D., a professor of medicine and of pharmacology and toxicology; Steven N. Fiering, Ph.D., an associate professor of microbiology and immunology and of genetics; Jose Conejo-Garcia, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology and of medicine; biostatistician; Mary Jo Turk, Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology and a member of the cancer center's Immunology and Cancer Immunotherapy Research Program; Eugene Demidenko, Ph.D., a research professor of community and family medicine; and John B. Weaver, Ph.D., a professor of radiology who also is an adjunct associate professor of engineering at Thayer.


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