Posted: January 18, 2007

Illinois and Pakistani researchers team for nanotechnology cancer cures

(Nanowerk News) Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are teaming up with counterparts in Pakistan to develop nanotechnologies which will identify potential cancer therapies which utilize native medicinal plants.
The Indo-Pakistan subcontinent is rich in such remedial sources, most of which remain untouched, explained Kenneth Watkin, co-director and lead principle investigator (PI) for the Nanomedicine for Cancer research project, which is being funded by the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperative Program.
"My research focuses on the development and application of new methods of biomedical imaging for diagnosis and treatment," stated Watkin, a professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences. Pakistan is among the eight leading exporters of medicinal plants. There is a need to build partnerships that help provide the infra-structure and training for the application and utilization of recently developed new rapid screening techniques for evidenced based evaluation of various plant extracts.
Watkins stated that proteins, the key elements of the biological machinery, are involved in a variety of functions such as modulation of the immune system, regulation and processing of hormones, protein degradation and processing, signal transduction, programmed cell death etc. in addition to the normal metabolic processes.
"We have employed a new label-free optical bio-sensor system for high throughput evaluation," said Watkin, who is also the director of the Medical Imaging Research Laboratory, which is a part of the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group at Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
"This new bio-sensor system is being used for rapid evaluation of the breast cancer apoptotic potential of plant extracts. Our preliminary research revealed several potential extracts that kill breast cancer cells. The potential cancer treatment extract candidates will progress to clinical evaluation," stated co-PI Brian Cunningham, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois.
"The application of this type of nanomedicine technology has enormous potential not only for the treatment of cancer but also for the medicinal plant industry in Pakistan. Applications include high throughput pharmaceutical compound screening, molecular diagnostics, PCR, electrophoresis, label-free microarrays, proteomics, environmental detection, and whole-cell assays," said Irfan Ahmad, associate director for the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, who is a co-director/co-PI on the project.
"This research award also highlights the College of Engineering's (COE) growing partnerships with other colleges on campus such as the Applied Health Sciences through the UI Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST)," stated COE dean Ilesanmi Adesida.
"The research also will be conducted at the newly established bionanotechnology section of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory," said Ahmad. The University of Illinois research team includes Watkin, Ahmad, Cunningham, and Hanafy Fouly, a research specialist/plant pathologist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. The co-director/PI on the Pakistani side of the project is Atiya Abbasi of the International Center for Chemical Sciences, H.E.J. Research Institute of Chemistry and Dr. Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine & Drug Research at the University of Karachi.
The joint research proposalsubmitted under the Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperative Program for 2006was one of only 13 selected from among the 121 applications. The selection committee has recommended U.S. funding for the project at a total level of $250,000 over three years (February 1, 2007 to January 31, 2010).
As stated in the proposal, Pakistan has the third highest cancer rate of all thirteen South-Central Asian countries. The most prevalent cancers for men are, in rank order, lung, bladder, esophagus, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and colon cancer. The most prevalent cancers for women, in rank order, are breast, oral, ovarian and cervical cancer.
More than 70% of the developing world's population still depends on the complementary and alternative systems of medicine (CAM).Evidence-based CAM therapies have shown remarkable success in healing acute as well as chronic diseases. There is a definite need to design training and capacity-building programs for the CAM practitioners who need such continuing education, hence bringing them into the mainstream and elevating their status in society.
Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign