Univ. of Rhode Island pharmacy professor awarded $1.3M grant for cancer research

KINGSTON, R.I. — The National Institutes of Health have awarded a University of Rhode Island pharmacy professor a $1.3 million grant to further study a new class of inorganic nanoparticles that target primary cancer and help control the disease’s spread and recurrence.

Wei Lu, assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences in URI’s College of Pharmacy, in his lab conducting research on novel nanoparticles to battle metastatic breast cancer. URI photo by Joe Giblin.

Wei Lu, assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences in the College of Pharmacy, has discovered in his preliminary research that hollow copper sulfide nanoparticles are effective in delivering chemotherapy and heat through a laser that can burn the tumor.

The Kingston resident will be using the four-year NIH grant to further his laboratory study with a focus on breast cancer, the second most frequently diagnosed malignancy in women worldwide.

“We are developing a novel cancer therapeutic technology that has several innovative features: biodegradability, multimodality and simplicity,” said Lu, who is teaming with pharmacy professor Bingfang Yan, a specialist in genetic and environmental factors that combine to regulate the expression of genes involved in drug response and the cellular switches related to tumor formation. 

Lu, who came to the University in 2010, said he could not have competed for the NIH award if it weren’t for the support of the Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, a $45 million initiative funded by NIH and headed by URI to increase research capacity among biomedical faculty in Rhode Island.

“The program supported my research for three years, which allowed me to develop my preliminary findings,” Lu said. “I am very grateful for this support, without which I could not have gotten this major federal funding.”

Lu’s research colleague Yan, chair of the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said it’s rare in the nation for a junior faculty member with just three years on the job to be awarded such a major grant through the regular R01 mechanism by NIH. 
Lu and Yan will be working with post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates from the bachelor of science in pharmaceutical sciences program.

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