Artificial Blood Vessels Grown in Polyethylene Glycol Hydrogels

Artificial Blood Vessels Grown in Polyethylene Glycol Hydrogels

This week’s Centennial Stars go the extra mile to support the students and faculty they serve. They are Judy Le, director of Leadership Rice, and Randy Tibbits, document delivery team leader at Fondren Library.

On Oct. 11, Douglas Brinkley interviewed President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House for the Nov. 8 cover story in Rolling Stone magazine.

Seven members of the Department of Mathematics have been selected for the inaugural class of fellows of the American Mathematical Society.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America will test Rice-developed nanotherapy

Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) and Nanospectra Biosciences have planned the first clinical trial for lung cancers of a new therapy that uses gold nanoshells, which were invented at Rice.

Nanospectra’s AuroLase Therapy uses a combination of lasers and nanoparticles to destroy cancer tumors with heat. Because the nanoparticles — balls of silica encased in a thin shell of gold — are absorbed by tumors and not healthy tissue, the technology can destroy tumors with minimal damage to healthy tissues.

Naomi Halas

Naomi Halas

“It’s extremely gratifying to see this technology progress from the lab into the clinic,” said nanoshell inventor Naomi Halas, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, physics and astronomy, and director of Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics. “I’m particularly pleased that this trial is being conducted by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, an organization that is committed to improving access to investigational cancer therapies.”

The nanoshells-based cancer treatment was pioneered at Rice by Halas and Jennifer West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering. Houston-based Nanospectra, which was founded in 2002, has the exclusive license from Rice to 11 U.S. patents related to nanoshells and nanoparticles.

Jennifer West

Jennifer West

Nanospectra and CTCA said the clinical trial has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the CTCA Institutional Review Board and will involve treatment of primary and metastatic lung tumors. The trial will be conducted by Dr. Mark Lund and colleagues in CTCA’s Interventional Pulmonology Department.

Nanospectra said AuroLase technology is also being tested in ongoing human clinical trials for metastatic head and neck tumors and for prostate cancer.

AuroLase Therapy begins with an injection of nanoshell particles into the patient’s bloodstream. After 12-24 hours — enough time for the particles to accumulate inside the tumor — an infrared laser is used to heat the particles and destroy tumor cells.

Researchers from Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine have developed a method to grow blood vessels in a laboratory. The investigators used biomimetic polyethylene glycol hydrogels embedded with a growth factor called BB (PDGF-BB) to spur angiogenesis, and are now working on a way to guide the formation of vasculature for specific applications.

As its base material, a team of researchers led by West and BCM molecular physiologist Mary Dickinson chose polyethylene glycol (PEG), a nontoxic plastic that’s widely used in medical devices and food. Building on 10 years of research in West’s lab, the scientists modified the PEG to mimic the body’s extracellular matrix — the network of proteins and polysaccharides that make up a substantial portion of most tissues.

West, Dickinson, Rice graduate student Jennifer Saik, Rice undergraduate Emily Watkins and Rice-BCM graduate student Daniel Gould combined the modified PEG with two kinds of cells — both of which are needed for blood-vessel formation. Using light that locks the PEG polymer strands into a solid gel, they created soft hydrogels that contained living cells and growth factors. After that, they filmed the hydrogels for 72 hours. By tagging each type of cell with a different colored fluorescent marker, the team was able to watch as the cells gradually formed capillaries throughout the soft, plastic gel.

To test these new vascular networks, the team implanted the hydrogels into the corneas of mice, where no natural vasculature exists. After injecting a dye into the mice’s bloodstream, the researchers confirmed normal blood flow in the newly grown capillaries.

Another key advance, published by West and graduate student Joseph Hoffmann in November, involved the creation of a new technique called “two-photon lithography,” an ultrasensitive way of using light to create intricate three-dimensional patterns within the soft PEG hydrogels. West said the patterning technique allows the engineers to exert a fine level of control over where cells move and grow. In follow-up experiments, also in collaboration with the Dickinson lab at BCM, West and her team plan to use the technique to grow blood vessels in predetermined patterns.

Time-lapse image showing how two types of cells (tagged red and green) organize themselves into a functioning capillary networks within 72 hours:

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