University of Missouri to work in partnership with Sankara Nethralaya
A delegation from the University of Missouri that visited Chennai recently with its focus on nanomedicine, sought to explore ways to “develop a scholarly, creative partnership that has a high impact on science and the potential to do something good for patients… unable to afford the treatment.”
Nanotechnology, which refers to a field of applied science and technology and deals with the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, about hundred nanometres or smaller, and the fabrication of devices or materials within that size range, “is a very small field but has a very big impact,” said Brady J. Deaton, Chancellor of the University of Missouri, who led the high-level delegation. In Chennai, the delegation’s first stop was Sankara Nethralaya.
The mission of the delegation, which comprised university officials and nanomedicine experts, was clear. Said Mr. Deaton: “We want to explore ways in which we could develop a scholarly, creative partnership that has a high impact on science and the potential to do something good for patients suffering from disease and unable to afford the treatment. Not only will we set up a foundation for the pursuit of knowledge and science in the areas of ophthalmology, nanotechnology and modern science but also models of delivery of science and knowledge to everyone in the population. By taking knowledge in one area and applying it to another area we find that we achieve scholarly breakthroughs.”
Kattesh V. Katti, Professor of Radiology and Physics and Director, University Cancer Nanotechnology Platform, University of Missouri, said: “The manifestation of some diseases within the eye like age related macular degeneration are very similar to what happens in cancer. The eye is a very isolated part in the body. If we can understand that particular part well, we can apply it to other diseases in humans and animal population.”
Providing a definition that would help demystify Nano medicine, Dr. Katti said: “Nano medicine is a medical modality that uses nano particles for detection of diseases and treatment. Nanotechnology has a lot to offer in terms of diagnostics and therapeutic agents for treatment of eye disorders such as Age related Macular Degeneration and other retinal disorders. There are a number of reasons why nano particles do a much better job when compared to traditional pharmaceuticals. In simple terms, nano particles have a greater capacity to detect diseases and pick them up early — at the cellular stage. Diseases like breast tumors and prostate cancers and various other diseases if detected early can be fully cured. Other nano therapeutic products can be used to treat excruciatingly painful diseases like bone cancer for which there is no cure.”
The coming together of the University of Missouri and Sankara Nethralaya is significant in more ways than one. Mr. Deaton explained: “Our university has throughout its history addressed the frontiers of knowledge and science. We are a land grant university created in the U.S. through a series of legislations in the U.S. in the 1800s to promote the development and transfer of knowledge to help the working classes and all sections of society. What we have seen at Sankara Nethralaya is one of the finest examples of what a land grant concept is.”
Impressed by the work done at Sankara Nethralaya, Mr. Deaton said: “Work recognised worldwide as some of the most exciting work in science, going from basic research to clinical work in serving others and reaching out to the community in truly exceptional ways is going on here.”
While they could have chosen several other institutes in India to partner with, what tilted the scales in favour of Sankara Nethralaya is the “excellent service they do by way of patient care and their tremendous track record of publications in clinically relevant journals.”
The University of Missouri, which is making tremendous progress in the application of gold nano particles, is also working with researchers at Sankara Nethralaya who are investigating the role of gold nano particles in treating age related macular degeneration.
Anti-oxidants discovered by the University of Missouri are being used in extensive studies. “The collaboration is very natural and it’s a nice two way partnership,” said Dr. Katti.
The University of Missouri has the largest nuclear reactor that has enabled it to make major pharmaceutical breakthroughs and one of the largest nuclear magnetic resonance machines in the U.S. Mr. Deaton said: “If you looked at the research methodology being employed at Sankara Nethralaya to treat eye diseases, that is certainly a challenging model. I hope we can find ways of applying this at the University of Missouri.”
Another advantage nanomedicine offers is that it can treat diseases in such a way as to minimise damage to the human being because it isolates the disease germs and viruses in the body and targets them specifically without impacting the body in a negative manner as many pharmaceutical products do.
Cutting edge research and genetic technology are not without their ethical dilemmas. Mr. Deaton said: “When we began putting more emphasis on life sciences and nano medicine we identified faculty in the area of philosophy and ethics to address the ethical issues that could arise during these processes. We felt that science had not paid enough attention in the past to the ethical issues of looking at any type of genetic technology and to examine the trade offs that may occur between the ability to violate a part of the body at the same time to save a life utilising genetic modification today, in order to save lives of future generations of children.”
Dr. Katti added: “Nanoscience is often referred to as a disruptive science. It has the very powerful ability to break down the traditional boundaries that existed between physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology and biomedicine. Nano Science brings all the expertise together under one roof.”
“Different nano particles, different sizes, shapes, elements — we are just beginning to unravel it all,” concluded Henry White, Professor of Physics, University of Missouri-Columbia.