Theranostic nanomedicine: Q&A with Weibo Cai, PhD

As the use of theranostic nanoparticles in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging expands, it becomes clearer which technologies will have enough traction to be translated to clinical practice. Molecular Imaging caught up with Weibo Cai, PhD, associate professor and head of the University of Wisconsin Molecular Imaging and Nanotechnology Lab in Madison, to find out more about the leading research in theranostic nanomedicine.

MI: Do you foresee nanoparticles reaching a stage of efficacy that would make them safe for human studies within the next five years?

WC: Yes, the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Nanotechnology Program is clearly the place to watch for future clinical translation. With $12-$13 million set aside per year to support five or six Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence—this will be the third funding cycle (i.e. year 2011-2015), many clinical studies are expected from the funded institutions.

MI: Which areas of nanotechnology research have seen the most advancement?

WC: Generally, organic and polymeric nanoparticles with high biocompatibility and biodegradability hold greater chances for future clinical translation. Most of inorganic nanoparticles with attractive drug delivery, optical, magnetic or photothermal properties are still struggling to advance into clinical trials due to potential toxicity concerns. However, progress has been made during the last decade. For example, inorganic nanoparticles, such as superpramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticle, gold nanoshells, ultrasmall silica nanoparticles (or Cornell dots), are currently either being used for clinical disease diagnosis or under active clinical trials.

MI: Is cancer imaging and diagnosis the primary use of theranostic nanoparticles or could these structures be implemented for the diagnosis and therapy of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease? What about autoimmune disorders and rheumatoid arthritis?

WC: Although cancer diagnosis and therapy is still the major focus for most previously reported theranostic nanoparticles, we believe the above mentioned diseases will also benefit from well-engineered theranostic nanoparticles in the near future.

MI: What nanoparticles would you say hold the most promise for translational medicine?

WC: Translational research of nanoparticles, especially inorganic nanoparticles, will continue to be one of the major challenges in the field of cancer nanomedicine. Encouragingly, over the past two decades, over 35 imaging or therapeutic nanoparticles have been approved by the FDA for clinical trials. To alleviate the potential long-term toxicity, we believe biodegradable or renal clearable nanoparticles with attractive diagnostic and/or therapeutic capabilities might have a better chance for future clinical translation.

Read on for more Molecular Imaging coverage of Cai’s research:

The age of theranostic nanoparticles