Steinbacher Takes Aim at Cancer with NSF Grant

BUFFALO, NY – Jeremy L. Steinbacher, PhD, is the recipient of a three-year $136,500 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The assistant professor of chemistry/biochemistry at Canisius will use the grant to study biomedical agents that can more safely and accurately target and attack cancer cells.

“The toxicity of many drugs limits the amount that can be administered, especially for many chemotherapies used to treat cancer,” says Steinbacher. His research involves microscopic nano-vehicles, known as drug-delivery agents, that package up chemotherapeutics and can then go straight to the diseased tissue. “If we can do this, we can then deliver higher doses of the drug to just the tumor and patients suffer fewer side effects or less damage to health tissues.”

State-of-the-art drug-delivery agents, similar to the ones Steinbacher is developing, also contain imaging agents, like a dye, to allow for the simultaneous pinpointing of diseased tissue and delivery to it. One imaging agent that has seen minimal use in combined drug-delivery applications is fluorine magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With support from the NSF grant, Steinbacher will work to create a new class of MRI contrast agents to create a combined drug-delivery and imaging agent.

“Given the limitations of traditional chemotherapies, many have predicted that the future of cancer treatments will lie with smart, multifunctional materials,” adds Steinbacher. “The development of new fluorine MRI contrast agents could open up an entirely new branch of the field that brings a host of advantages.”

Steinbacher will carry out his research with the assistance of undergraduate students at Canisius. The opportunity will provide these young chemists an important training opportunity and will also enable them to collaborate with researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and SUNY University at Buffalo.

“Some of the richest, most fulfilling teaching moments come in the laboratory,” says Steinbacher. “For the undergraduate, research is truly the culmination of one’s classroom learning. It allows them to synthesize everything they have studied and turn it into brand new knowledge - to be a scientist.”

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense. With an annual budget of $7.2 billion, the NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities in such fields as mathematics and physical sciences, computer science, and the social sciences.

The Canisius College Chemistry Department is ranked among the top 20 undergraduate chemistry departments, nationwide, based on the number of graduates who receive PhD degrees, publications, and grants awarded. This is the second NSF grant awarded to the Chemistry Department in recent years. In 2012, the Major Research Instrumentation Program of the National Science Foundation awarded Canisius College a $285,000 grant for the purchase of a 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. The state-of-the-art chemical instrument is used by chemistry and biochemistry faculty and students to enhance research, research training and education, including the work to be performed as a part of Steinbacher’s new grant.

Canisius is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation and the premier private university in Western New York.