MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As the commercial market for nanoparticles continues to grow, so does the debate over the potential toxicity of these man-made molecular materials that are used to make a wide variety of products, including electronics, automobiles, cosmetics and even drug delivery systems.  

Lan Guo, Ph.D., is leading research at the West Virginia University Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center that focuses on nanoparticles and lung cancer risk, a relatively new field of study. Dr. Guo recently was awarded a five-year, $1.67 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the impact of multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWCNT) exposure on pulmonary diseases, including fibrosis, a precursor to lung cancer.

“Nanoparticles have physical and chemical properties similar to asbestos, a known human carcinogen that can cause lung disease,” said Guo, who is the biomedical informatics program director for the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute at WVU. “The issue is how safe these materials are when people are exposed to them.”

In previous studies with collaborators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Guo’s team demonstrated that nanoparticles caused lung damage in animal models. Researchers also identified dramatic genetic changes known to be associated with human lung cancer risk and progression. Those findings moved them a step closer to the next phase of their research – the clinical part.  

With the new funding, researchers will conduct experiments to compare their previous animal studies with studies on human lung fibrosis tissue and human lung cancer tissue obtained from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the WVU tissue bank.

“We will examine the genomic profiles of the animal models and human cell lines and human tissue samples to identify biomarkers and see what genes were affected. There are currently no clinically available biomarkers for early detection of MWCNT-induced pulmonary diseases, particularly lung fibrosis,” Guo said.

“If we can identify those biomarkers and the molecular mechanisms involved, we can predict those at risk for developing lung disease, including cancer, and ultimately develop methods of intervention to treat these diseases.”

She added that data from the study should also reveal how many nanoparticles can be used in consumer products before there are potential health risks, and that will help policy makers develop regulations on nanoparticles.

The WVU study is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01ES 021764.

Guo also was awarded a two-year, $520,000 grant from the National Library of Medicine of the NIH under award number R56LM009500 to support ongoing research aimed at predicting lung cancer recurrence in patients diagnosed with early stage lung cancer.  

Researchers will analyze patient tumor tissue collected from the WVU Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Michigan and identify biomarkers to predict which lung cancer is more aggressive and likely to come back. The information could help clinicians determine which patients should have more aggressive chemotherapy in addition to surgery.

Standard treatment for early stage lung cancer is surgery alone. Up to 50 percent of those who have surgery will see their cancer return within five years. 
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ss: 10-10-12