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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Breakthrough fluorescent biomaterials to aid disease treatment

June 30, 2009

A breakthrough discovery in fluorescent biomaterials can more efficiently deliver medicine to cancerous areas of the body, build temporary stents in arteries and even regenerate tissue, a research team from The University of Texas at Arlington and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has found.

The team, led by Dr. Jian Yang of the UT Arlington bioengineering department, has developed fluorescent biopolymers that use small, non-toxic molecules such as citric acid to illuminate cancerous regions and deliver needed drugs to the body. The polymers also function as implant materials and are biodegradable, so they eventually dissipate naturally, Yang said.

The findings have been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and have "spectacular implications for biomedicine," said Dr. Ralph Mason, professor radiology and director of the UT Southwestern Cancer Imaging Center. Mason is the author of the recent PNAS paper.

Dr. Mason said the quantum dot nanoparticle technology currently used to deliver cancer drugs promised a revolution in imaging but "has suffered from potential heavy metal toxicity." The new organic polymers promise efficacy without the problems, he said.

"This is exciting because we use small molecules like citric acid that can be found in human bodies and also in beverages in our daily life to make the totally degradable polymers for drug and luminescence delivery," Dr. Yang said. "These new materials build a solid foundation for many biomedical applications."

The research has pending federal funding, Dr. Yang said.

Dr. Yang offered two applications. A cancer patient, for example, could be injected with this biodegradable, luminescent material that would identify the cancerous cells. The material also could contain drugs that would be released to treat the infected region of the body.

The biodegradable, luminescent material also could be used to remedy clogged or closed arteries, Dr. Yang said. It could be used to form a drug-loaded stent that would open up the artery much like current surgery provides. Once the artery was opened, the material would dissolve, leaving a healthy artery in its place.

UT Southwestern supported the team's work through high-tech imaging resources which are used to evaluate new materials, Dr. Mason said.

"This study emphasizes the extraordinary potential of the joint program in bioengineering between UT Arlington and UT Southwestern," he said.

Other members of Dr. Yang's interdisciplinary team include: Drs. Liping Tang from bioengineering, Kevin A. Schug of chemistry and biochemistry and Wei Chen of physics at UT Arlington, Drs. Li Liu and Mason of radiology at UT Southwestern, and graduate students Yi Zhang, Santosh Gautam, Jagannath Dey, and undergraduate student Carlos Serrano at UT Arlington.

July 29, 2009 Update
Dr. Yang has received a two-year, $406,218 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and BioEngineering to continue studies of his biodegradable photoluminescent polymers.