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A magnet for treating thyroid cancer

A magnet for treating thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer can be hard to treat because as the tumor cells spread, the small tumor lesions become difficult to pinpoint. Jian Yang’s fluorescent biomaterials show promise in finding the cancer and delivering medicine with high precision.

Bioengineering Associate Professor Jian Yang is creating better ways for doctors to track down an elusive disease.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded Dr. Yang a grant to create tools to find and treat thyroid cancer. He is partnering with fellow bioengineer Kytai Nguyen to design, synthesize, and develop a dual-imaging, dual-targeting nanoparticle system that combines magnetic resonance imaging and fluorescence imaging for cancer diagnosis, magnetic targeting, and antibody-mediated targeting for cancer drug delivery.

“Our intent is to find the cancer with high precision and treat it in a single setting,” Yang says. “It’s a one-stop solution for cancer drug delivery and diagnosis.”

Yang’s nanoparticles have a magnetic core and fluorescent shell, each of which enables doctors to perform sensitive, specialized imaging.

Jian Yang

Jian Yang, bioengineering associate professor

“The shell of the nanoparticles is decorated with a special molecule that can specifically find and bind cancellous tissues,” he explains. “In addition to this, we can place a magnet on the skin of the thyroid cancer area to help retain the core-shell nanoparticles in the cancer tissues.”

Thyroid cancer is typically hard to treat because as the tumor cells spread, the small tumor lesions become difficult to pinpoint. Yang’s system should greatly improve the specificity and sensitivity of cancer detection because it’s more efficient at finding these lesions than present methods.

“This research is very important to public health because it would overcome several limitations of current detection and treatment methods for thyroid cancer,” Yang says. It would also help patients avoid some of chemotherapy’s severe complications—hair loss, weakness, nausea, hypertension—due to the low doses of drugs it uses and its high specificity. Additionally, because the materials being employed are biodegradable, they “simply melt away” after use.

The two-year grant is the first UT Arlington has received from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 establishing CPRIT and authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. The institute has awarded more than $380 million in grants.

The award enables Yang and his colleagues to continue work that started with a National Institutes of Health grant and a National Science Foundation CAREER grant. In addition to delivering cancer treatments, their fluorescent biomaterials could potentially be used to build temporary stents in arteries and even regenerate tissue.