"Here I am!” -Cancer
Wouldn’t it be nice if cancer could simply yell out to let us know where it is, and how much of it is there? Anna St. Lorenz, a 4th year PhD student in the College of Pharmacy, is working on just that.
In college, Anna’s scientific education expanded further through multiple internships and unique educational opportunities at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and OHSU. Anna obtained a B.A. in Biology with a minor in Neuroscience from Smith College. Receiving a B.A. rather than a B.S. meant that Anna’s science education was interdisciplinary, and incorporated disciplines such as history and the fine arts. Anna’s love of the arts still persists as she frequently paints and creates “bioart,” which she uses as a means to inform and involve the community on her scientific endeavors. She commonly uses her work with her husband, Grey St. Lorenz, in presentations and has previously collaborated with artists in upstate New York for work on display at local universities.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Anna received a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. While finishing up her Master’s degree, Anna moved to Boston and started working at MIT as a nanoparticle research technician within the Langer Lab. It was at MIT that she learned about a new nanoparticle-specific program being implemented in the OSU College of Pharmacy. This program is now about four years new and Anna has been at the front line of pioneering this program for future graduate students. In addition to navigating a new program and coping with the regular difficulties of being a graduate student, this OSU nanoparticle program is actually based at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland. Although challenging at times, as a graduate student researching cancer therapeutic technology, OHSU is great place to be.
Have you ever used facewash with textured particles in it? Nanoparticles are 1/1000th of that size and are used to envelop or otherwise transport compounds throughout the body and deliver them to more specified regions. This technology can be applied to a variety of compounds to enhance their delivery needs. Solubility issues, tissue or disease specificity, PH, heat, and enzyme specific release are all areas that nanoparticle science delves into to address patient care. So now, the imaging agent, inside of its tiny carrier, can circulate through the body and find the cancerous tissue it’s designed to target.
As tumors are characteristically disorganized tissue whose unregulated growth demands increased nutrients, they develop a leaky vasculature which makes it easier for molecules to permeate the tissue. Once the nanoparticle reaches the tumor, it is able to take advantage of the enhanced permeability of tumors to infiltrate and label the cancer cells. An important characteristic of the works is that the compounds use near-infrared (near-IR) light, which can be administered to excite the delivered agents in a spectral range that is largely unaffected by organic tissue. These agents were specifically screened for their ability to convert this light to acoustic/sounds waves that are detectable by ultrasound imaging. This process allows for an enhanced detection and characterization of ovarian cancer – opening the door for effective screening and improved monitoring of this devastating disease.