Public Release: 

Burnham Institute to collaborate in NCI funded Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence

Distinguished Professor Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti to apply expertise in tumor targeting to develop nano-'homing' devices

Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

La Jolla, CA - October 3, 2005 - Burnham Institute for Medical Research announced its contribution to the newly funded Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE) established at the University of California with funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The CCNE is a new program created with the goal of assembling nanodevices capable of targeting tumor vasculature and carrying out multiple potential functions for imaging, diagnosis and therapeutic treatment. Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti, Distinguished Professor at the Institute, will join a team of world class nanoengineers to integrate "homing" functionality into nanodevices, or so called "mother ships," capable of delivering diagnostic or therapeutic cargo to cancer blood vessels. [The project will bring $6.8 million the Institute over the next five years.]

Cancer blood vessels express specific markers that are not present in the blood vessels of normal tissues and may be use as a postal address for delivering imaging agents and cancer therapeutics. The project directed by Dr. Ruoslahti aims to develop nanodevices that can act as mailmen for delivering these payloads directly to the blood vessels of cancer cells.

Dr. Tomas Mustelin, Professor and Director of the Institute's inflammation research program, will contribute as co-principal investigator on a component directed by Dr. Michael Sailor. Dr. Mustelin will study the interaction of nanomachines with cells, looking at how molecular assemblies affect cell health.

The CCNE has assembled a team of investigators from the University of California, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Irvine, and Riverside campuses, Burnham Institute for Medical Research, NanoBioNexus, and General Electric. The consortium is comprised of six complementary projects, each using newly developed and unique technologies, which will collectively aim at using nanotechnology to develop anti-cancer therapies that directly target tumor cells; more accurate and faster diagnostics; and ways to track down cancer cells that survive therapy.

With a long history of internationally recognized, seminal discoveries in vascular targeting, Dr. Ruoslahti has been spearheading efforts at the Burnham to apply these specialized targeting techniques to the field of nanotechnology. Dr. Ruoslahti is credited with the first successful targeted delivery of a nanomachine into live tissue. Using in vivo phage display technology discovered in his laboratory, Ruoslahti has identified and developed targeting elements needed to hone in on the delivery of nanodevices to vulnerable plaque.

The Institute was recently selected as a "Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology" by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. The award was granted in June of 2005 for designing nanotechnologies to detect, monitor, treat and eliminate vulnerable plaque, the probable cause of death in sudden cardiac arrest.

Dr. Ruoslahti, former President and CEO of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, was recently awarded the 2005 Japan Prize in Cell Biology for his discovery of the RGD peptide, a simple, powerful cell recognition system that defines how cells connect and communicate with each other, and why normal cells die and cancer cells survive when this system ultimately fails.


About Burnham Institute for Medical Research
Burnham Institute for Medical Research, founded in 1976, is an independent not-for-profit biomedical research institution dedicated to advancing the frontiers of scientific knowledge and providing the foundation for tomorrow's medical therapies. The Institute is home to three major centers: the Cancer Center, the Del E. Webb Neuroscience and Aging, and the Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center. Since 1981, the Institute's Cancer Center has been a member of the National Cancer Institute's prestigious Cancer Centers program. Discoveries by Burnham scientists have contributed to the development of new drugs for Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and several forms of cancer. Today the Institute employs over 700, including more than 550 scientists. The majority of the Institute's funding derives from federal sources, but private philanthropic support is essential to continuing bold and innovative research. For additional information about the Institute and ways to support the research efforts of the Institute, visit

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