Big new opening for nano science

The search is on at the Australian National University for new uses of nano-particle technology in the treatment of cancer.

Nano-particles known as SIR-Sphere microspheres are used to fight liver cancer. These microspheres, containing radioactive material coated in a carbon-polymer resin, are injected into the body and travel to the liver, becoming lodged within the cancerous tumours.

Professor Ross Stephens, of the department of applied mathematics at ANU, has been named to the Sirtex chair, an industry-sponsored research group looking for new applications of the radioactive nano-particles in medical treatments.

Sydney-based pharmaceutical company Sirtex has made a three-year commitment to sponsor the chair, including up to $800,000 a year to the research group and $500,000 towards licence fees and equipment purchases.

Sirtex is known in the medical community for developing the SIR-Sphere microspheres.

Professor Stephens said the new labs and equipment donated by Sirtex will be useful in his team's research.


''Before we could only see where there was an isotope distributed in an image. Now we can have a physical image of the object as well as the isotope distribution within,'' he said.

Dr Steve Jones, global director of research and development at Sirtex, said that the research facility at ANU would look at new treatment options for the nano-particles.

''Sirtex has identified a number of potential applications for these particles. We will be focusing on collaborating with the ANU and the group at the National Cancer Centre in Singapore for treatment of cancers other than liver cancer,'' Dr Jones said.

Gilman Wong, chief executive of Sirtex, said that the partnership would not only look for new applications for existing technology but for new technological improvements. ''With the set-up here, there are avenues open for discovering new technology for the treatment of various forms of cancer,'' he said.

Professor Stephens and his team will use a second-hand CT SPECT camera in their research that was acquired from the Royal North Shore Hospital by Sirtex.

''We were fortunate that the hospital was upgrading its nuclear medical department. Sirtex was able to acquire, transport, reassemble and calibrate the imaging camera for us.''

The camera is now five years old but new pieces of equipment such as this can cost upwards of several million dollars.