Lu & Kasi in lab
Xiuling Lu, (right) Assoc. Professor of Pharmaceutics and Rajeswari Kasi, (left) Assoc. Professor of Chemistry inside Lu’s lab.

When a researcher develops a drug that can help treat an illness, the next challenge they face is finding a way to actually get the drug delivered to the right location in a patient’s body in the right amount.

Two University of Connecticut professors have been granted a US Patent for a novel polymer they have designed to help deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumors. Rajeswari Kasi from the Department of Chemistry and Xiuling Lu from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, both are affiliated with the polymer program within the Institute of Materials Science, have created a new copolymer that can self-assemble into nanoparticles in aqueous solutions. The nanoparticles can carry drugs and bio-responsively release drugs in cancer cells.

The non-specific toxicity of standard anti-cancer drugs means they will harm both cancerous and healthy cells. A better drug delivery system could help ensure the drugs only affect the tumor cells.

Kasi and Lu’s invention is a polymercomposed of a cholesterol block and a polyethylene glycol block. Cholesterol is an important part of our cell membranes. Polyethylene glycol has been safely used in many drug products.

The biocompatible co-polymer developed by the UConn team can be made into nanoparticles loaded with anti-cancer drugs through a simple process. Once administered into the body, drugs carried by nanoparticles can remain in the bloodstream and eventually find their ways to tumors. Studies of the invention in mice showed that the nanoparticles carrying drugs were much more likely to accumulate in cancer cells rather than those of other, healthy vital organs like the heart.

The polymer is able to cleave or split inside of cancer cells and rapidly release drugs from nanoparticles to kill the cancer cells. Compared with anti-cancer drugs currently in clinical use, this invention is expected to largely reduce the drug toxicity to healthy tissues and potentially improve the cancer treatment outcome.

United States Patent 9975983 “Bio-reducible self-assembled liquid crystalline block copolymer for drug delivery.” Related publication: Nguyen CT, Tran TH, Lu X, Kasi RM. Redox-Sensitive Nanoparticles from Amphiphilic Cholesterol-Based Block Copolymers for Enhanced Tumor Intracellular Release of Doxorubicin. Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine. 2015, 11(8): 2071–2082.

For more information about this technology, contact Technology Commercialization Services within UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research at (860) 679-3992.

By Anna Zarra Aldrich | Story courtesy of UConn Today