The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Good Things, Small Packages

Tiny particles deliver big for nanomedicine
  • Chemist Vincent Rotello in his office with nanoparticle models on screen

“We’re a ‘hammer lab’: our research on nanoparticles is the hammer, and we look for nails to hit.” -- Vince Rotello

Professor of Chemistry Vincent Rotello’s research on nanoparticles--tiny objects that have an array of unique physical properties—is having a huge impact on disease diagnostics and treatment. His work in nanoparticle development, chemical synthesis, materials fabrication, and advanced manufacturing furthers UMass Amherst’s world leadership in nanomedicine.

Rotello’s specialty is developing and testing Velcro-like coatings that allow nanoparticles to bind and interact variously with other molecules. One particularly innovative application of these coatings is a “chemical nose” that might someday transform cancer detection and treatment. “Our new method,” Rotello explains, “uses an array of sensors both to recognize known cancer types and to signal that other abnormal cells are present. Though it may have never before encountered a given particular type of abnormal cell, the chemical nose can tell us something isn’t right, like the ‘check engine’ light in your car.” Unlike current detection methods, the sensor can perceive minute differences in concentrations of the cell-surface biomarkers that indicate cancer.

Nanoparticles can also be used to attain greater control and accuracy in disease treatment. Effective, accurate drug delivery is a significant challenge in treating cancer and other diseases. Treatment drugs, including chemotherapy, can affect healthy cells as well as diseased ones, causing unnecessary cell death and undesirable side effects. Current tumor treatments only kill cells on a tumor’s exterior, leaving open the threat of the tumor’s return. When attached to nanoparticles, however, drugs can be delivered inside of the tumor and completely destroy it.

What’s next for Rotello? The chemical nose and the drug delivery method need further testing, but he’s working with several companies to bring them to market. Last year Rotello and his team developed a strip that easily and in just a few minutes detects bacteria levels in water. The group is now working with the UMass Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing to make the strips stable enough to be easily transported to developing countries.

Asked about his success in so many areas of nanoparticle research and application, Rotello replies, “We’re a ‘hammer lab’: our research on nanoparticles is the hammer, and we look for nails to hit.”

Vincent Rotello has been Charles A. Goessmann Professor of Chemistry since 2005. He is a fellow of the AAAS and of the Royal Society of Chemistry and is executive editor of Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews and associate editor of the Journal of Materials Chemistry. He also serves on the editorial boards of Chemical Society Reviews, Langmuir, The International Journal of Green Technology, and other publications. Rotello holds three independent and two collaborative NIH grants, two independent and two collaborative NSF grants, as well as other funding that since 2005 have garnered his group more than $6 million. His latest research can be found in Nature Chemistry, Nature Nanotech, and other journals.

Karen J. Hayes'85