Developing vascular zip codes
Within the Center for Nanomedicine, a collaboration between Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and the University of California, Santa Barbara, internationally renowned medical researcher Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., leads the Vascular Mapping Laboratory. Dr. Ruoslahti is a Distinguished Professor with Sanford-Burnham and also serves in UCSB’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology as an adjunct Distinguished Professor.
The Vascular Mapping Laboratory focuses on developing applications for vascular "zip codes," based on technology discovered in Dr. Ruoslahti's laboratory. Vascular zip codes are molecular signatures in blood and lymphatic vessels ("vasculature") that are specific to individual tissues and disease sites. Ruoslahti has discovered ways to selectively target drugs to tumor blood vessels in mice and suppress the growth of those tumors. He has also found a way to selectively target the lymphatic vessels in tumors. The hope is that this very specific delivery of therapeutics to tumor blood and lymphatic vessels will increase the efficacy of cancer therapies and decrease side effects.
Targeting peptides discovered in Ruoslahti’s laboratory are providing the platform for integrating nanotechnologies into the design of new therapies for cancer and heart disease. Ruoslahti and others at Sanford-Burnham contribute a key component to the Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at the University of California, Santa Barbara founded with $20 million from the National Cancer Institute.
A partnership of 25 scientists, primarily from Sanford-Burnham and UCSB, has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as a "Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology", awarding a $13 million grant to design nanotechnologies that detect, monitor, treat, and eliminate "vulnerable" plaque, the probable cause of death in sudden cardiac arrest.
The Ruoslahti lab is focused on discovering peptides that target cancer cells and developing methods to deliver therapeutic agents to those cells. In particular, their work identifies peptides that bind or target artherosclerotic plaques. These, in turn, serve as guides for the delivery of specifically designed nanoparticles that incorporate therapeutic agents. In related efforts, the Ruoslahti lab is interested in identifying factors that increase the circulation time of nanoparticles in the blood. Finally, the lab is also focused on the mechanism of apoptosis, or cell death, of cells that do not adhere to surface solids.