A better way to attack cancer

CPRIT grant funds Nguyen’s efforts to reduce side effects of cancer treatment

Thursday, Sep 23, 2021 • Herb Booth : Contact

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Kytai Nguyen in her lab.

The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded a University of Texas at Arlington bioengineering professor a nearly $250,000 grant to better identify cancer cells so they can be destroyed.

Kytai Nguyen said her goal is to build and mimic T cells that attach to cancer cells, serving as targets for nanoparticles transporting medication. Once the nanoparticles find the T cells, they would release the medication and destroy the cancer cells without damaging surrounding good cells and tissues.

Nguyen said current therapies for cancer don’t identify the cancer cells and can damage or destroy healthy cells.

“In this research, we will take the T cell, which is a white blood cell that is integral in the fight against disease, and make it search out and find the cancer cells so that nanoparticle-laden drugs can bind to cancer cells and do their job,” she said.

The title of her project is “Novel Tumor-Specific Bioactive Nanoparticles for Cancer Therapy.” Coprincipal investigators include Raquibul Hannan, a radiation oncologist and medical doctor at UT Southwestern, and Jon Weidanz, UT Arlington associate vice president of research and a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“Any time UTA can secure a grant like this, it does a great job of fostering a better understanding of this University’s ability in the arena of academic research,” said Weidanz, who will be engineering the T cell to identify the cancer cells.

According to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute, about 1.8 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer in 2020. More than 600,000 of those people will die from the disease. Michael Cho, chair of the Bioengineering Department, said Nguyen’s research shows promise in cancer treatment.

Kytai Nguyen
Kytai Nguyen

“This research could save so many cancer patients from the devastating side effects of current treatments,” Cho said. “Dr. Nguyen has excelled in this area of study. She has a real heart for discovering and building better ways to attack cancer.”

Nguyen, who has been at UT Arlington since 2005, received CPRIT grants in 2016 and 2010. She also has received funding through the NIH, National Science Foundation, American Heart Association, Department of Education and the Department of Defense, among others

She is a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors, a fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society, a member of the UTA Academy of Distinguished Scholars, a fellow of the American Institute for Medical & Biological Engineering and a fellow of the American Heart Association.

CPRIT was created when Texans voted in 2007 to create the organization and to invest $3 billion in the state’s unprecedented fight against cancer. In 2019, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to continue CPRIT’s work and invest an additional $3 billion for finding and funding the best cancer research and prevention opportunities in the state. CPRIT is now a $6 billion, 20-year initiative—the largest state cancer research investment in the history of the United States and the second-largest cancer research and prevention program in the world.