Drug delivery

Researchers at Dundee University are to lead a €2m EU-funded project to develop new methods of delivering cancer treatments.

Researchers at Dundee University are to lead a €2m (£1.7m) European Union (EU)-funded project to develop new methods of delivering cancer treatments using MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) and drug 'nano-capsules'.

The university will collaborate with international companies InSightec and CapsuTech on the so-called NANOPORATION project, which will develop new, more efficient methods of delivering chemotherapy.

These will integrate MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), focused ultrasound and potentially photonics, with the delivery and activation of nano-capsules carrying anti-cancer drugs to effectively target tumours.

Prof Andreas Melzer, director of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT) at Dundee University, said: 'All of the established methods of cancer treatment have significant drawbacks, in that they cause side effects, require invasive procedures or do not deliver their therapeutic effect in an effective manner.

'If we can combine these technologies of ultrasound, MRI and nano-capsules, as well as micro-bubbles, we will be able to release proven anti-cancer drugs in high concentration only in the area where they are required. The project partners have existing technology in each of the areas we are looking at. What we need to do is combine the best of it to create a new system that can deliver this very effective model of treatment.'

The treatment envisaged by the project leaders involves drugs being injected into the body in the form of tiny capsules, which are harmless until they are activated by a concentrated focused ultrasound blast, using devices developed in IMSaT’s medical ultrasound laboratories as well as commercial systems. The MRI scanner would then be used to track the passage of the drugs, visualise the target and monitor the delivery of the drugs.

With the focused ultrasound concentrated on the exact position of the tumour in the body, damage to surrounding tissue would be minimised and the effective delivery of the drug to the target cells significantly increased.

Melzer said: 'The aim with all cancer treatment is to target the specific area of the tumour and remove it while causing as little damage to surrounding tissue as possible, and reducing the side effects of drug treatments. The methods we are developing would present a significant improvement in each of those areas, compared with current treatments.'

IMSaT is unique in the UK in possessing within the same laboratories the multi-modality  MRI, focused ultrasound and photonics  imaging and surgical capabilities to deliver this kind of research. InSightec and CapsuTech deal with different aspects of targeted drug discovery. InSightec is a manufacturer and developer of unique MR-guided Focused Ultrasound systems, and CapsuTech is a developer of a drug-delivery platform based on targeted nano-capsules.

The project has been funded for four years through the EU's Framework 7 programme.