Novel fluorescence nanoparticles for non-invasive detection of cancers

Early detection of cancers would dramatically improve survival outcomes of patients, with estimated five-year survival rates of greater than 90% for several cancers, including breast, ovarian, brain and colorectal cancers (Etzioni et al., Nature Reviews Cancer, 2003). However, due to late presentation of clinical symptoms and lack of early screening, current diagnostics detect tumors at more advanced stages whereby the tumors are intractable to effective treatment. Fluorescence imaging is an emerging technology in the clinic for safe, non-invasive detection, offering excellent resolution and specificity. Towards that end, we are developing novel fluorescent materials as imaging agents with high sensitivity and low background, achieving unprecedented signal-to-noise performance for detecting small tumors and micrometastases to improve non-invasive detection and guidance in surgical interventions.

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Tumor microenvironment-responsive drug delivery systems

The tumor microenvironment is a complex and irregular milieu of tumor and stromal cells, extracellular matrix proteins and growth factors, blood and lymphatic vasculature, giving rise to the physical heterogeneity of cancer and amongst the various cancers. This abnormal complexity creates physiological barriers rendering tumors hostile to delivery of imaging and therapeutic payloads. Using high-throughput methods and taking advantage of the intrinsic and controllable properties of nanomaterials, we aim to engineer materials and understand their interactions with the tumor microenvironment. Building on the insight gained from these studies, our goal is to design next-generation material systems that overcome these barriers for improved accumulation and ultimately, effective cancer therapy.

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