Single Location Key to NCL's Operation

By Nancy Parrish, Staff Writer
Technicians using microscopes.

Jamie Rodriguez, research associate, NCL, uses an inverted phase contrast microscope to visualize a specific type of cell in culture. To the right of the microscope is an automated cell counter, which captures the number of cells she is viewing. Lydia Perkins, NCL summer intern, works at a laminar flow hood in the background.

By Nancy Parrish, Staff Writer

For the first time, the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) is under one roof, as a result of their move to the Advanced Technology Research Facility (ATRF).  The move is expected to streamline their work as well as provide greater opportunities for collaboration with other researchers, both internal and external.

“Before the ATRF, NCL’s labs were in two different locations, with half our biologists at an offsite facility at the Frederick Innovative Technology Center. This created all sorts of logistical battles to get samples and reagents from one place to another in time and without damage or degradation,” said Scott McNeil, Ph.D., NCL’s director. “Now, not only will we have all NCL scientists in one location, we’ll be co-located with other groups we collaborate with routinely, such as those in the Advanced Technology Program and Technology Transfer.” 

NCL Instrumental in New Cancer Therapies

Established in 2004 to assist cancer researchers in developing nanomaterials for use in cancer diagnostics and therapies, NCL is the result of a formal collaboration among the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). NCL scientists assess the physical and chemical characteristics of nanomaterials being developed as candidates for cancer therapies. Before use in human testing, nanomaterials must undergo stringent regulatory review by the FDA through the Investigational New Drug (IND) application process. Because of the relationships with NIST and the FDA, NCL scientists are well versed in the requirements of a successful IND submission.

Now considered a leader in biomedical nanotechnology, NCL is currently engaged in more than 75 partnerships with the extramural community—academia, industry, and other government laboratories—in which NCL scientists are testing more than 250 different nanomaterials intended for clinical applications related to cancer therapies.

NCL-tested cancer therapies now in clinical trials include targeted, nanoparticle-carried chemotherapies, such as a prostate cancer therapy from BIND Biosciences. Other NCL-tested products are based on very different principles than chemotherapy, according to Jennifer Hall Grossman, Ph.D., an NCL scientist. For example, AuroShell, a product from Nanospectra Biosciences, Inc., uses heat to destroy a tumor without significant damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

NCL also supports the work of other government agencies. Researchers at NCL are currently participating in a two-year collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), in which NIEHS has funded infrastructure and characterization support in a study of the environmental health and safety impacts of nanomaterials. NCL has similar collaborations with the FDA, including support to projects to assess the safety of nanoparticles in sunscreens and cosmetics.

Expansion Foreseen

Such interagency and extramural collaborations are projected to increase now that NCL is in its new location. “Before the ATRF, the fundamental limitation to NCL’s expansion to support additional partnership opportunities was insufficient space for equipment and staff,” Grossman said. “Being co-located with EML [Electron Microscopy Laboratory] and partners will also facilitate NCL operations.”

NCL-Tested Therapies in Clinical Trials

NCL recently tested the cancer therapy AuroShell, a product of Nanospectra Biosciences, Inc. AuroShell is a gold nanoshell that is injected intravenously and accumulates in tumors due to its nanosize. Once the particles are in the tumor, they are irradiated with near-infrared laser light, which heats the particles and thermally destroys the tumor and the surrounding blood vessels without significant damage to healthy tissue. AuroShell is currently being given to patients in a Phase I clinical trial for head and neck cancers.

Other successful partnerships have been formed with pharmaceutical companies to reformulate previously “failed” cancer drugs. According to the October 2011 issue of NCL News (pages 1–2), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a powerful chemotherapeutic tested in clinical trials in the 1990s, had to be discontinued due to severe adverse side effects. Working with NCL, CytImmune Sciences was able to develop AurImune®, which is a nano-sized gold particle that is bound to TNF. In a recent Phase I clinical trial of AurImune, three times what had previously been a lethal dose of TNF was given to patients with few negative side effects—illustrating how reformulating drugs using nanotechnology can greatly reduce the toxicity of chemotherapeutics.