Team Up against Cancer

Pink Out at the Ryan Center

Every February—snow or no snow—the URI Pink Out Games bring together members from all segments of the University community for a common cause. The Pink Out Games are now their eighth year, and their proceeds, along with those from the sale of URI Pink Out T-shirts, benefit the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. This year’s Pink Out games are on Feb. 12, when the URI women take on Dayton, and on Feb. 19 when it’s the Rhody men against St. Joseph’s.

The Pink Out games are always lively, loud, and very pink, with cheering fans filling the stands to overflowing—to support the home team and to contribute to a cause that affects so many. Not far away from the Ryan Center—in the labs of the College of Pharmacy—another effort is underway in the fight against breast cancer. And it is receiving a lot of attention, with good reason.

Last month, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Wei Lu, assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences in the URI College of Pharmacy a $1.3 million grant to further his study of breast cancer, the second most frequently diagnosed malignancy in women worldwide.

Professor Lu’s study focuses on a new class of inorganic nanoparticles that target primary cancer—and help control the disease’s spread and recurrence.

Professor Lu’s study focuses on a new class of inorganic nanoparticles that target primary cancer—and help control the disease’s spread and recurrence. In his preliminary research, Professor Lu discovered that hollow copper sulfide nanoparticles are effective in delivering chemotherapy and heat through a laser that can burn the tumor.

Nanoparticles are submicroscopic particles whose size is measured in nanometers. A nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter. Nanoparticles—only 1/1,000 the width of a single human hair—may be very small, but they have the potential to make a big difference.

“One nanoparticle can carry hundreds or even thousands of drug molecules to a target like a tumor cell,” said Professor Lu, who wants to enhance photothermal ablation therapy, a process that uses lasers in cancer treatment.

“We are developing a novel cancer therapeutic technology that has several innovative features: biodegradability, multimodality and simplicity,” said Lu, who is teaming with Pharmacy Professor Bingfang Yan, a specialist in genetic and environmental factors that combine to regulate the expression of genes involved in drug response and the cellular switches related to tumor formation.

“The new nanoparticles provide a three-way punch to the tumor: a more widespread ability in a tumor to distribute heat and burn the tumor, a more efficient and comprehensive way to deliver chemotherapy, and better use of heat to activate the chemotherapeutic agents and immunotherapeutic agents. The new nanotechnology offers promise in tumor eradication.”

Fighting cancer is important work, and on the campus of the University of Rhode Island it is happening in many different ways. From the cheering crowds who gather in the Ryan Center to raise funds and awareness to the College of Pharmacy where Professors Lu and Yan and the students who work with them focus on the tiniest particles that hold so much promise.