New Treatment To Kill Cancer

Raise your hand if you haven’t been touched by cancer,” says Mylisa Parette to a roomful of strangers. Parette, the research manager for Keystone Nano (KN), has occasional opportunities to present her company’s technologies to business groups and wants to emphasize the scope of the problem that still confronts society. “It’s easier to see the effects of cancer when nobody raises their hand,” she says. Despite 40 years of the War on Cancer, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. Parette and her Keystone Nano colleagues are working on a new approach to cancer treatment. The company was formed from the collaboration of two Penn State faculty members who realized that the nanoparticle research that the one was undertaking could be used to solve the drug delivery problems that the other was facing.

Mark Kester, a pharmacologist at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, was working with a new drug that showed real promise as a cancer therapy but that could be dangerous if injected directly into the bloodstream. Jim Adair, a materials scientist in University Park, was creating nontoxic nanoparticles that could enclose drugs that might normally be toxic or hydrophobic and were small enough to be taken up by cells.

The two combined their efforts and, licensing the resulting technology from Penn State, they joined with entrepreneur Jeff Davidson, founder of the Biotechnology Institute and the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association, to form Keystone Nano. The new company’s first hire was Parette, whose job is to translate the lab-scale technology into something that can be ramped up to an industrial scale, and to prepare that technology for FDA approval leading to clinical trials.

Davidson, Parette, and KN’s research team work out of the Zetachron building, a long, one-story science incubator a mile from Penn State’s University Park campus. Operated by the Centre County Industrial Development Corporation, the building was originally the home of the successful Penn State spin-out company that gave it its name. A second Keystone Nano lab was recently opened in the Hershey Center for Applied Research, a biotech incubator adjacent to Penn State College of Medicine.

Our excitement is that we think our technology has shown efficacy in a whole range of animal models,” Davidson, Keystone CEO, remarks during a recent meeting in the shared conference room at Zetachron. “We understand the method of action, the active ingredient. We think it has every chance of being useful in treating disease. Our question is, how do we push this forward from where we are today to determining, one way or another, that it really does work?

Keystone Nano is pioneering two approaches to cancer therapy, both of which rely on advances in nanotechnology to infiltrate tumors and deliver a therapeutic agent. The approach nearest to clinical trials is a ceramide nanoliposome, or what Davidson calls a “nano fat ball around an active ingredient.” Kester, in whose lab the approach was developed, thinks of it as a basketball with a thick bilayer coating that contains 30 percent active ceramide and a hollow interior that can hold another cancer drug.


How To Detect Contaminants In One Single Molecule

A technique to combine the ultrasensitivity of surface enhanced Raman* scattering (SERS) with a slippery surface invented by Penn State researchers will make it feasible to detect single molecules of a number of chemical and biological species from gaseous, liquid or solid samples. This combination of slippery surface and laser-based spectroscopy will open new applications in analytical chemistry, molecular diagnostics, environmental monitoring and national security.

The researchers, led by Tak-Sing Wong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, call there invention SLIPSERS, which is a combination of Wong’s slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces (SLIPS), which is a biologically inspired surface based on the Asian pitcher plant, and SERS.

Detect contaminants in one single moleculeWe have been trying to develop a sensor platform that allows us to detect chemicals or biomolecules at a single molecule level whether they are dispersed in air, liquid phase, or bound to a solid,” Wong said. “Being able to identify a single molecule is already very difficult. Being able to detect those molecules in all three phases, that is really challenging.”

Our technique opens up larger possibilities for people to use other types of solvents to do single molecule SERS detection, such as environmental detection in soil samples. If you can only use water, that is very limiting,” Yang said. “In biology, researchers might want to detect a single base pair mismatch in DNA. Our platform will give them that sensitivity.”

One of the next steps will be to detect biomarkers in blood for disease diagnosis at the very early stages of cancer when the disease is more easily treatable. “We have detected a common protein, but haven’t detected cancer yet,” Yang said.

*Raman spectroscopy is a well-known method of analyzing materials in a liquid form using a laser to interact with the vibrating molecules in the sample. The molecule’s unique vibration shifts the frequency of the photons in the laser light beam up or down in a way that is characteristic of only that type of molecule.


Flexible Electronics 22 Times Faster

A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has shown that nanoscale particles, or nanocrystals, of the semiconductor cadmium selenide can be “printed” or “coated” on flexible plastics to form high-performance electronics. Electronic circuits are typically integrated in rigid silicon wafers, but flexibility opens up a wide range of applications. In a world where electronics are becoming more pervasive, flexibility is a highly desirable trait, but finding materials with the right mix of performance and manufacturing cost remains a challenge.

Professor Cherie Kagan, from the School of Arts and Sciences explains: ’“We have a performance benchmark in amorphous silicon, which is the material that runs the display in your laptop, among other devices,” Kagan said. “Here, we show that these cadmium selenide nanocrystal devices can move electrons 22 times faster than in amorphous silicon.
The research was led by David Kim, a doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science; Yuming Lai, a doctoral student in the Engineering School’s Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering; and Professor Cherie Kagan, who has appointments in both departments as well as in the School of Arts and Sciences’ . Benjamin Diroll, a doctoral student in chemistry, and Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Christopher Murray of Materials Science and of Chemistry also collaborated on the research. The work was published in the journal Nature Communications.