The mainstay of cancer treatment has been the same for nearly 40 years and consists of surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. These treatments subject the entire body to agents that destroy cells by non-selectively damaging the DNA of both tumors and healthy cells and result in limited effectiveness, high cytotoxicity, and difficult side effects. Additionally, the nature of the disease is such that unless all tumor cells are destroyed, cancer will eventually return — often more aggressive and more resistant to treatment.
Since biological processes, including those that lead to cancer, occur at the nanoscale, the potential for using nanotechnology in medicine, especially in the area of cancer, is vast. Nanotechnology may be able to surpass existing limitations in treating some of the most devastating cancers, such as glioblastoma and melanoma because it has the potential to cross existing biological barriers to effectively reach the disease. Further, nanotechnology could tackle cancers at the genetic level — critical to diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain cancer, and melanoma.
Recognizing the promise of nanotechnology to change the way cancer is treated, Ronald and JoAnne Willens established the Center for Nano Oncology in 2017. Under the leadership of Prof. Chad A. Mirkin, research at the Center is pushing the boundaries of science, medicine, and engineering by fully exploiting the promise of nanotechnology for the development of novel and highly effective cancer treatments.
Research projects within the Center focus on specific cancer types and are led by faculty members who are recognized leaders in their field. Researchers benefit from the extensive infrastructure already in place at the IIN, including state-of-the-art instrumentation, laboratories, and facilities; partnerships with industry to facilitate the translation of new technologies to the marketplace; and educational programs that inform the public and educate the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.
Like its founders, the Willens Center is dedicated to:
The Center was launched with a $10 million gift from longtime Northwestern supporters Ronald and JoAnne Willens, pictured here.
"It's our desire to improve, grow, and contribute to making the world better," JoAnne Willens says. "We are grateful for that opportunity."
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