A $1 million NCI grant supports new collaborative research at SUNY
STONY BROOK, N.Y., May 30, 2023 – A major challenge in the management of advanced ovarian cancer is the detection and treatment of microscopic or minute tumors, called micrometastases, within the intraperitoneal cavity. To address this clinical challenge, Ulas Sunar, PhD, a SUNY Empire Innovation Associate Professor at Stony Brook University, has recently been awarded a $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Sunar and his SUNY colleagues will develop a light endoscope for detecting and destroying these minute tumors. This novel approach is expected to reduce toxic side effects in normal tissue such as the intestines and liver. The approach has the potential to improve survival rates and/or quality of life for ovarian cancer patients by providing more precise and targeted treatment.
“Our innovative endoscope compensates for light attenuation in tissue, resulting in enhanced contrast and enables clinicians to better differentiate cancerous tissue from normal tissue,” says Sunar, SUNY Empire Innovation Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. This work to advance ovarian cancer detection with image-guided intervention involves using a specific color of light to detect and eliminate small tumor nodules in patients.
The team utilizes a chemo-drug within a nano-balloon that opens up when treatment laser light at a specific color is illuminated. In order to precisely target the nano balloons, Sunar is working on developing a sophisticated technique called a “digital mask” that can adjust both the intensity and shape of the beam with micron-level precision.
He says the digital mask is similar to the iconic Bat signal from Batman movies, as it has the ability to alter the shape of the light. Additionally, it enables the manipulation of the light’s strength. This combination of capabilities will empower doctors to precisely direct the beam and target cancer cells with an unprecedented level of accuracy.
“Our approach enables selective destruction of cancerous tissue while sparing healthy tissue and reducing harm to vital organs such as the liver and intestines because the drug is only activated in response to the treatment light hitting the targeted cancer cells,” he explains. “The same endoscope can be applied to oral, gastrointestinal, lung, and brain imaging for image-guided surgery.”
Collaborating on the research with Sunar is Jonathan F. Lovell, Ph.D., of the University of Buffalo, who is developing the drug; and Shashikant Lele, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. The research is currently in a preclinical phase of investigation.
Sunar’s research at Stony Brook focuses primarily on functional and molecular optical imaging techniques for early disease detection and image-guided intervention in preclinical and clinical settings. Details can be found at Sunar Research Group’s website.
The SUNY Empire Innovation program is a state-funded grant program designed to help recruit and retain world-class faculty within SUNY. The program aims to expand SUNY’s research enterprise by building on existing research strengths within the SUNY system.