Researchers advancing new nano-devices

DETROIT – A team of researchers from Wayne State University’s College of Engineering, School of Medicine and the Kresge Eye Institute have been collaborating to discover and develop new nano-devices that will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of a number of neuron-inflammatory diseases and infections that are currently difficult to target and treat.

The team led by Rangaramanujam Kannan, associate professor of chemical engineering, with collaborators Dr. Sujatha Kannan, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Dr. Raymond Iezzi, Jr., assistant professor of Ophthalmology at the Kresge Eye Institute, have received funding recently from the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation to develop a therapeutic approach that will target and treat neuron-inflammation in age-related macular degeneration and cerebral palsy by developing a novel drug-dendrimer-based sustained delivery nano-device formulations.

The research may also have a strong impact on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, amytrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. In addition, the husband and wife Kannan team are collaborating with the Perinatology Research Branch (PRB) of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development and housed at WSU and the Detroit Medical Center to establish a nanotechnology unit to develop diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to fetal inflammation with the goal of addressing an important cause of pre-term birth and fetal injury. The precise goal is to develop a dendrimer-based nano-device that will be used for the diagnosis and treatment of inflammation and infections for applications in maternal-fetal medicine.

“The PRB has established a unit to develop applications of nanotechnology in perinatal medicine under the leadership of Dr. Kannan because we are convinced that this approach will enhance early diagnosis of inflammation in utero as well as treatment,” said Dr. Roberto Romero, chief of the Perinatology Research Branch. “Dr. Sujatha Kannan and Dr. R. Kannan have established an animal model of inflammation-induced cerebral palsy and explored potential mechanisms to prevent such injury. Application to humans requires new methods for diagnosis and drug delivery into the amniotic cavity. Such goals could be accomplished using nanotechnology and, hence, the partnership between Dr. Kannan and the Perinatology Research Branch,” Dr. Romero added.

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) and cerebral palsy (CP) are two major diseases that affect individuals at opposite ends of the age spectrum. ARMD is a retinal degeneration that affects more than nine million elderly individuals and CP affects millions of children. “There is an increasing body of literature, in addition to evidence from our own research relating to the disease mechanisms that suggests that neuron-inflammation plays a key role in the pathogenesis and evolution of both of these diseases,” said R. Kannan. “Through funding from Mr. Wilson’s medical research foundation, we hope to develop therapeutic approaches that will target and treat neuron-inflammation and lead to improved treatment outcomes.”

“The novel drug discovery technologies have resulted in the development of a large number of potentially powerful drugs,” said R. Kannan. “To maximize their affect and minimize side-effects are becoming increasingly critical. We believe our novel drug-carrying nano-device will offer solutions to treat a variety of diseases that currently are difficult to treat due to lack of technology that can reach the specific target the drug needs to hit.”

In addition to funding from the Wilson Foundation, the Kannan team is working towards developing nano-devices that will aid in diagnosis and drug therapy for maternal infections that can spread to the fetus. “Often treatments for maternal infections can spread to the fetus,” said Gloria Heppner, associate vice president for Research at WSU and member of the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee. “Through the technology being developed by the Kannan team, there may soon be a more effective and safe treatment method for effectively treating the fetus for a variety of infections that are currently difficult to treat.”

“The kind of interdisciplinary research teams that are emerging at Wayne State will enable faster translation of nanotechnology to the medical field and beyond,” said Ralph Kummler, dean of the College of Engineering. “President Irvin Reid has been extremely committed to our nano-science research developments through the President’s Research Enhancement Fund, and we’re beginning to see the fruits of this commitment payoff.”