Chemistry Related
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Dr. T. Randall Lee
Department of Chemistry
photo by Mark Lacy
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by Noelle Heinze
When Sarah underwent treatment for breast cancer (see CARES article), she had a mastectomy followed by eight months of chemotherapy. “Chemotherapy gave me severe muscle aches. It made me nauseous and tired,” she says.“My hair fell out, and I wore a wig, but I was able to go to work during those months.”
Conventional chemotherapy for cancer treatment is a Catch-22. Large doses of powerful drugs are used to kill cancer cells within a patient’s body, but these drugs also kill healthy cells needed to keep the patient alive, often causing symptoms like those described by Sarah.
Targeted drug delivery is a fairly recent development in cancer therapy, offering two major advantages over traditional chemotherapy: it avoids damage to normal tissue and may limit drug resistance.
One aspect of targeted drug delivery uses nanometer-sized particles—structures that are thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair—to carry and deliver drugs directly to cancer cells within the body.  Like a magnetic force, nanoparticles are drawn to particular cancer cells based on a complex process of molecular recognition.
Recently, Professor of Chemistry T. Randall Lee invented a unique targeted drug-delivery system that incorporates the use of laser light to heat gold-based nanoparticles coated with a drug-embedded polymer gel. When the hybrid nanoparticles are illuminated, they emit heat, collapsing the surrounding gel and releasing the drug to the cancer target.
Heat-activated at the discretion of the physician, this system takes targeted drug delivery to a new level: drug delivery on demand.
An international patent is pending on this work.
For more information about Professor Lee’s research, please visit http://www.chem.uh.edu/Faculty/lee/Research/research.htm.
© University of Houston 2006