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2024 ADDF-Harrington + 2025 Harrington Scholar-Innovator Programs

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Jill Smith, MD

Jill Smith, MD

Georgetown University

Disease Areas

Oncology, Rare/Orphan


Targeted Nanoparticle for Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Scholar Profile

2021 Harrington Scholar-Innovator

Pancreatic cancer is a fatal disease resulting in about 50,000 deaths annually in the United States. From the time of diagnosis, the median survival ranges from 3 to 6 months. A “theranostic” approach combining early detection with target-specific nanoparticle (NP) gene therapy could transform heartbreak into hope.

Pancreatic precancerous lesions, or PanINs, have remained invisible on routine computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and endoscopic ultrasound imaging (EU). So far, PanINs evade detection until cancer develops and begins to metastasize. Growth of these lesions leads to 85% of pancreatic cancers diagnosed in the US. Using a nanoparticle and gene therapy platform, Dr. Jill Smith and her team seek to locate and shut off proteins driving the growth of pancreatic cancer.

“We discovered a receptor protein, CCK-BR, expressed in highgrade, precancerous PanIN lesions that is found in pancreatic cancer,” explains Dr. Smith. “We designed a NP (a particle one-billionth of a meter in size) with a peptide on the end that specifically targets and binds to CCK-BR. We labeled the NP with a fluorescent substance to image its path after injection. Staining showed it goes straight to the receptor and concentrates in PanIN lesions. In mouse models, we found no accumulation or toxicity in other organs.”

The approach also has potential with chemotherapy by aiding in detection and penetrating dense fibrosis, as well as treating other cancers where the CCK-B receptor is overexpressed,” she says. “Thanks to support from Harrington, our paper has been published in the prestigious International Journal of Molecular Sciences, and we can share our findings.”

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