Tag Archives: University of Louisville

Liquid biopsy chip that uses carbon nanotubes in place of microfluidics

They’re calling this a breakthrough technology in a Dec. 15, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

A chip developed by mechanical engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) [UK] can trap and identify metastatic cancer cells in a small amount of blood drawn from a cancer patient. The breakthrough technology uses a simple mechanical method that has been shown to be more effective in trapping cancer cells than the microfluidic approach employed in many existing devices.

The WPI device uses antibodies attached to an array of carbon nanotubes at the bottom of a tiny well. Cancer cells settle to the bottom of the well, where they selectively bind to the antibodies based on their surface markers (unlike other devices, the chip can also trap tiny structures called exosomes produced by cancers cells). This “liquid biopsy,” described in a recent issue of the journal Nanotechnology, could become the basis of a simple lab test that could quickly detect early signs of metastasis and help physicians select treatments targeted at the specific cancer cells identified.

A Dec. 15, 2016 WPI press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains the breakthrough in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

Metastasis is the process by which a cancer can spread from one organ to other parts of the body, typically by entering the bloodstream. Different types of tumors show a preference for specific organs and tissues; circulating breast cancer cells, for example, are likely to take root in bones, lungs, and the brain. The prognosis for metastatic cancer (also called stage IV cancer) is generally poor, so a technique that could detect these circulating tumor cells before they have a chance to form new colonies of tumors at distant sites could greatly increase a patient’s survival odds.

“The focus on capturing circulating tumor cells is quite new,” said Balaji Panchapakesan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at WPI and director of the Small Systems Laboratory. “It is a very difficult challenge, not unlike looking for a needle in a haystack. There are billions of red blood cells, tens of thousands of white blood cells, and, perhaps, only a small number of tumor cells floating among them. We’ve shown how those cells can be captured with high precision.”

The device developed by Panchapakesan’s team includes an array of tiny elements, each about a tenth of an inch (3 millimeters) across. Each element has a well, at the bottom of which are antibodies attached to carbon nanotubes. Each well holds a specific antibody that will bind selectively to one type of cancer cell type, based on genetic markers on its surface. By seeding elements with an assortment of antibodies, the device could be set up to capture several different cancer cells types using a single blood sample. In the lab, the researchers were able to fill a total of 170 wells using just under 0.3 fluid ounces (0.85 milliliter) of blood. Even with that small sample, they captured between one and a thousand cells per device, with a capture efficiency of between 62 and 100 percent.

In a paper published in the journal Nanotechnology [“Static micro-array isolation, dynamic time series classification, capture and enumeration of spiked breast cancer cells in blood: the nanotube–CTC chip”], Panchapakesan’s team, which includes postdoctoral researcher Farhad Khosravi, the paper’s lead author, and researchers at the University of Louisville and Thomas Jefferson University, describe a study in which antibodies specific for two markers of metastatic breast cancer, EpCam and Her2, were attached to the carbon nanotubes in the chip. When a blood sample that had been “spiked” with cells expressing those markers was placed on the chip, the device was shown to reliably capture only the marked cells.

In addition to capturing tumor cells, Panchapakesan says the chip will also latch on to tiny structures called exosomes, which are produced by cancers [sic] cells and carry the same markers. “These highly elusive 3-nanometer structures are too small to be captured with other types of liquid biopsy devices, such as microfluidics, due to shear forces that can potentially destroy them,” he noted. “Our chip is currently the only device that can potentially capture circulating tumor cells and exosomes directly on the chip, which should increase its ability to detect metastasis. This can be important because emerging evidence suggests that tiny proteins excreted with exosomes can drive reactions that may become major barriers to effective cancer drug delivery and treatment.”

Panchapakesan said the chip developed by his team has additional advantages over other liquid biopsy devices, most of which use microfluidics to capture cancer cells. In addition to being able to capture circulating tumor cells far more efficiently than microfluidic chips (in which cells must latch onto anchored antibodies as they pass by in a stream of moving liquid), the WPI device is also highly effective in separating cancer cells from the other cells and material in the blood through differential settling.

While the initial tests with the chip have focused on breast cancer, Panchapakesan says the device could be set up to detect a wide range of tumor types, and plans are already in the works for development of an advanced device as well as testing for other cancer types, including lung and pancreas cancer. He says he envisions a day when a device like his could be employed not only for regular follow ups for patients who have had cancer, but in routine cancer screening.

“Imagine going to the doctor for your yearly physical,” he said. “You have blood drawn and that one blood sample can be tested for a comprehensive array of cancer cell markers. Cancers would be caught at their earliest stage and other stages of development, and doctors would have the necessary protein or genetic information from these captured cells to customize your treatment based on the specific markers for your cancer. This would really be a way to put your health in your own hands.”

“White blood cells, in particular, are a problem, because they are quite numerous in blood and they can be mistaken for cancer cells,” he said. “Our device uses what is called a passive leukocyte depletion strategy. Because of density differences, the cancer cells tend to settle to the bottom of the wells (and this only happens in a narrow window), where they encounter the antibodies. The remainder of the blood contents stays at the top of the wells and can simply be washed away.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Static micro-array isolation, dynamic time series classification, capture and enumeration of spiked breast cancer cells in blood: the nanotube–CTC chip by Farhad Khosravi, Patrick J Trainor, Christopher Lambert, Goetz Kloecker, Eric Wickstrom, Shesh N Rai, and Balaji Panchapakesan. Nanotechnology, Volume 27, Number 44 DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0957-4484/27/44/44LT03 Published 29 September 2016

© 2016 IOP Publishing Ltd

This paper is open access.

$81M for US National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI)

Academics, small business, and industry researchers are the big winners in a US National Science Foundation bonanza according to a Sept. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

To advance research in nanoscale science, engineering and technology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will provide a total of $81 million over five years to support 16 sites and a coordinating office as part of a new National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI).

The NNCI sites will provide researchers from academia, government, and companies large and small with access to university user facilities with leading-edge fabrication and characterization tools, instrumentation, and expertise within all disciplines of nanoscale science, engineering and technology.

A Sept. 16, 2015 NSF news release provides a brief history of US nanotechnology infrastructures and describes this latest effort in slightly more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The NNCI framework builds on the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), which enabled major discoveries, innovations, and contributions to education and commerce for more than 10 years.

“NSF’s long-standing investments in nanotechnology infrastructure have helped the research community to make great progress by making research facilities available,” said Pramod Khargonekar, assistant director for engineering. “NNCI will serve as a nationwide backbone for nanoscale research, which will lead to continuing innovations and economic and societal benefits.”

The awards are up to five years and range from $500,000 to $1.6 million each per year. Nine of the sites have at least one regional partner institution. These 16 sites are located in 15 states and involve 27 universities across the nation.

Through a fiscal year 2016 competition, one of the newly awarded sites will be chosen to coordinate the facilities. This coordinating office will enhance the sites’ impact as a national nanotechnology infrastructure and establish a web portal to link the individual facilities’ websites to provide a unified entry point to the user community of overall capabilities, tools and instrumentation. The office will also help to coordinate and disseminate best practices for national-level education and outreach programs across sites.

New NNCI awards:

Mid-Atlantic Nanotechnology Hub for Research, Education and Innovation, University of Pennsylvania with partner Community College of Philadelphia, principal investigator (PI): Mark Allen
Texas Nanofabrication Facility, University of Texas at Austin, PI: Sanjay Banerjee

Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure, University of Washington with partner Oregon State University, PI: Karl Bohringer

Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor, Georgia Institute of Technology with partners North Carolina A&T State University and University of North Carolina-Greensboro, PI: Oliver Brand

Midwest Nano Infrastructure Corridor, University of  Minnesota Twin Cities with partner North Dakota State University, PI: Stephen Campbell

Montana Nanotechnology Facility, Montana State University with partner Carlton College, PI: David Dickensheets
Soft and Hybrid Nanotechnology Experimental Resource,

Northwestern University with partner University of Chicago, PI: Vinayak Dravid

The Virginia Tech National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, PI: Michael Hochella

North Carolina Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network, North Carolina State University with partners Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, PI: Jacob Jones

San Diego Nanotechnology Infrastructure, University of California, San Diego, PI: Yu-Hwa Lo

Stanford Site, Stanford University, PI: Kathryn Moler

Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, Cornell University, PI: Daniel Ralph

Nebraska Nanoscale Facility, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, PI: David Sellmyer

Nanotechnology Collaborative Infrastructure Southwest, Arizona State University with partners Maricopa County Community College District and Science Foundation Arizona, PI: Trevor Thornton

The Kentucky Multi-scale Manufacturing and Nano Integration Node, University of Louisville with partner University of Kentucky, PI: Kevin Walsh

The Center for Nanoscale Systems at Harvard University, Harvard University, PI: Robert Westervelt

The universities are trumpeting this latest nanotechnology funding,

NSF-funded network set to help businesses, educators pursue nanotechnology innovation (North Carolina State University, Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Nanotech expertise earns Virginia Tech a spot in National Science Foundation network

ASU [Arizona State University] chosen to lead national nanotechnology site

UChicago, Northwestern awarded $5 million nanotechnology infrastructure grant

That is a lot of excitement.

At the nanoscale, grapefruit swings from being medication danger to medication enhancer

It’s known that grapefruit, despite its health benefits, can inhibit (or even a pose danger) to a medication’s effectiveness. Most of us have been warned at one time or another to avoid grapefruit juice when downing a pill. So, the news from the University of Louisville (Kentucky; UofL) about grapefruit as part of a drug delivery system seems a little counter-intuitive (from the May 22, 2013 news item on Azonano),

Grapefruits have long been known for their health benefits, and the subtropical fruit may revolutionize how medical therapies like anti-cancer drugs are delivered to specific tumor cells.

University of Louisville researchers have uncovered how to create nanoparticles using natural lipids derived from grapefruit, and have discovered how to use them as drug delivery vehicles. UofL scientists Huang-Ge Zhang, D.V.M., Ph.D., Qilong Wang, Ph.D., and their team today (May 21, 2013), published their findings in Nature Communications.

The May 21, 2013 University of Louisville news release by Julie Heflin, which originated the news item, describes how the nanoparticles are derived and their advantages,

“These nanoparticles, which we’ve named grapefruit-derived nanovectors (GNVs), are derived from an edible plant, and we believe they are less toxic for patients, result in less biohazardous waste for the environment and are much cheaper to produce at large scale than nanoparticles made from synthetic materials,” said Zhang, who holds the Founders Chair in Cancer Research at the Brown Cancer Center.

The researchers demonstrated that GNVs can transport various therapeutic agents, including anti-cancer drugs, DNA/RNA and proteins such as antibodies. Treatment of animals with GNVs seemed to cause less adverse effects than treatment with drugs encapsulated in synthetic lipids.

“Our GNVs can be modified to target specific cells — we can use them like missiles to carry a variety of therapeutic agents for the purpose of destroying diseased cells,” he said. “Furthermore, we can do this at an affordable price.”

The therapeutic potential of grapefruit derived nanoparticles was further validated through a Phase 1 clinical trial for treatment of colon cancer patients. So far, researchers have observed no toxicity in the patients who orally took the anti-inflammatory agent curcumin encapsulated in grapefruit nanoparticles.

The UofL scientists also plan to test whether this technology can be applied in the treatment of inflammation related autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ paper,

Delivery of therapeutic agents by nanoparticles made of grapefruit-derived lipids by Qilong Wang, Xiaoying Zhuang, Jingyao Mu, Zhong-Bin Deng, Hong Jiang, Xiaoyu Xiang, Baomei Wang, Jun Yan, Donald Miller, & Huang-Ge Zhang. Nature Communications 4, 1867 doi:10.1038/ncomms2886 Published 21 May 2013

This paper is behind a paywall.

As for the dangers of grapefruit-medication interactions, ABC (American Broadcasting Corporation) has a Nov. 26, 2012 news item featuring then new research suggesting that even more medications are affected by grapefruit/grapefruit juice than had previously been believed,

It has long been known that grapefruit juice can pose dangerous — and even deadly — risks when taken along with certain medications. Now, experts warn the list of medications that can result in these interactions is longer than many may have believed.

In a new report released Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal [CMAJ], researchers at the University of Western Ontario said that while 17 drugs were identified in 2008 as having the potential to cause serious problems when taken with grapefruit, this number has now grown to 43.

So how does a common breakfast fruit cause these problems? Grapefruits contain chemicals called furanocoumarins that interfere with how your body breaks down drugs before they enter the bloodstream. By preventing this normal breakdown of a drug, these chemicals in grapefruit can effectively cause a drug overdose and more severe side-effects.

Among the side effects sometimes seen with grapefruit-induced overdoses are heart rhythm problems, kidney failure, muscle breakdown, difficulty with breathing and blood clots. …

ABC provides a list of drugs that are affected by grapefruit here.

For interested parties, here’s a link to and a citation for the research on grapefruit-medication interactions,

Grapefruit–medication interactions: Forbidden fruit or avoidable consequences? by David G. Bailey, George Dresser, and J. Malcolm O. Arnold. CMAJ March 5, 2013 185:309-316; published ahead of print November 26, 2012,

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have a couple of final comments. (1) It would seem that the grapefruit’s characteristics at the macroscale are not echoed at the nanoscale. (2) Interestingly, the grapefruit nanoparticles (grapefruit nanovectors [GNVs]) are being used to encapsulate curcumin (a constituent of turmeric). I wrote about turmeric and its healing properties in a Dec. 26, 2011 posting, which features a number of links to research in this area.