This year’s BRIght Futures Prize finalists are pursuing forward-thinking and inventive research to improve patient care. Each of the three finalists hopes to receive the $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize, which will be awarded at Discover Brigham on Oct. 7. Read about their work below, and vote for your choice.
Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, Department of Radiation Oncology
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for more than 8.2 million deaths per year. About 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused by the spread of the cancer to other parts of a patient’s body, making it more difficult to treat effectively.
We have developed a powerful new technology designed to kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body. The technology combines microscopic nanoparticles with medicine—all packed into a tiny drone the size of a grain of rice. Currently in the clinic, similar rice-size materials are routinely implanted in patients to guide radiotherapy treatment of cancers such as pancreatic, lung or prostate cancer. We want to upgrade the technology that is currently used with our “smart” technology, which can be employed at no additional inconvenience to patients. Once in place, our technology will proficiently release the microscopic particles/medicine to enhance local tumor cell death during radiotherapy and act as a beacon to call in the patient’s white blood cells. The white blood cells are then trained to kill cancer cells and can patrol the entire body, fighting cancer that has spread with greater effectiveness.
What is a compelling aspect of your research project?
Our team brings a new approach to an old problem. Our unique combination of state-of-the-art radiotherapy with nanotechnology and immunotherapy in one device will pack a pretty impressive punch.
When patients are treated with radiotherapy and/or drugs delivered via injections, the treatment can often harm healthy cells and tissue, in addition to cancer cells. Our tiny drones will enable highly targeted tumor cell death, with minimal damage to healthy tissue. In addition, the trained white blood cells will have the potential to kill off any cancer that may arise or come back in the future.
How will your research project benefit people?
Our technology is designed to substantially boost cancer cure rates, with minimal harm to healthy tissue, including for patients whose cancer has spread. One of the greatest fears of patients who are receiving treatment for cancer or are in remission is that their cancer will come back. Our technology is also designed to help prevent that from happening. Overall, our transformative new technology could drastically increase the survival rate and quality of life for cancer patients, particularly those with pancreatic cancer, for whom current treatments are limited.
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