Most of us have known someone affected by cancer. Cancer knows no age, no financial boundaries and no mercy. But research is helping improve the way we treat this disease and others. And clinical veterinarians, researchers and students at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences are doing their part to help save lives, animal and human alike.
Ashish Ranjan leads a laboratory of researchers including an undergraduate student, two veterinary students, five Ph.D. candidates, a predoctoral fellow and two postdoctoral fellows. He also collaborates with others in the veterinary center and across OSU. The assistant professor of physiological sciences secures funding through such sources as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, and the Oklahoma Center for Respiratory and Infection Diseases. His research focuses on targeting diseases cells using nanoparticles to deliver disease-fighting drugs.
“Current cancer therapy treatment usually relies on systematic delivery with limited tumor specificity,” said Ranjan. “This may result in adverse side effects in normal tissues and insufficient drug delivery to the targeted cancerous tumor. Encapsulation of a chemotherapeutic agent into a nanoparticle has the potential to reduce systemic toxicity and enhance drug delivery. For cancer targeting, we are pursuing two parallel approaches tot he address this critical need. One involves development of image-guided drug delivery and the other involves optimizing concurrent combinations of radiation and chemotherapy.”
For image-guided drug delivery, Ranjan’s team uses a simultaneous combination of drug encapsulated imageable nanocarriers with clinical imaging devices for more accurate targeting.
“Basically, our team is developing nanoparticles that can be imaged using ultrasound and simultaneously achieve drug delivery under image guidance. For example, a team member will use a liposome, which is a vesicle or a bubble , and fill it with a cancer-fighting drug that can be detected on ultrasound. Then, using a specialized ultrasound, we are able to achieve site-specific delivery, treating the diseased area directly without harming surrounding healthy cells. Our team is trying to perfect this new technique, which has the same amount of efficacy as current protocols but with zero side effects,” Ranjan added.
Similarly, the concept of concurrent combinations of radiation and chemotherapy is based on the premise that radiation can be leveraged to localize nanoparticles in tumors and trigger drug release from them.
“The ability to achieve nontoxic, selective chemotherapy with real-time assessment has applications in a variety of diseases, including cancer. Our lab realizes this potential and while research on cancer constitutes the primary area of work, we are also investigating the therapeutic application of nanomedicine against chronic infection and thrombotic disease,” said Ranjan.
Among those working Ranjan’s lab is Peter Czajkowski, a second-year veterinary student. Czajkowski applied the nanotechnology to see if it could treat thrombolysis by effectively breaking down blood clots in patients both animal and human. His original study was part of a 12-week summer Research Training Program for first- and second-year veterinary students. He soon discovered that research can take you down unexpected paths.
“It was a great experience,” said Czajkowski. “The one thing I walked away from this knowing was how much work goes into a research project. Originally I thought it would be easily done in the three-month period. Realistically, it is not done. So I am taking an elective to do a follow-up study that will hopefully further improve this technique.”
“Medical applications of nanotechnology promise to revolutionize our ideas about healthcare delivery in both humans and in our veterinary patients in ares such as drug delivery or new technologies like nanoscale biosensors,” said Jerry Malayer, associate dean for research and graduate education. “Targeted drug delivery will reduce the amount of drug needed and possibly reduce side effects of drugs which could result in overall decreases in treatment costs. It is important for us to always be thinking about applications of new technologies and staying close to the edge of scientific developments.”