PhD Candidate Profile: Rui Sang

1 March 2021
e - photo Rui Sang

What is your research about?

My research focuses on the treatment of colorectal cancer and its local lymph node metastasis.  Colorectal cancer has been the third most common cancer and the fourth most common deadly cancer worldwide due to high risk of cancer cells metastasis. Local recurrence after surgical resection is a major problem in rectal cancer resulting from failure to clear the affected lymph nodes beyond the surgical area. Tumour spread usually starts from lymph node metastasis which is the most powerful predictor for poor survival of metastatic rectal cancer patients.

Adjuvant chemo/radiotherapy is routinely applied as a treatment or prevention, but the well-known drug resistance and toxicity (chemotherapy) as well as progressive late morbidity (radiotherapy) represent inevitable limitations. This leaves the clinician with no further options. Therefore, the availability of a novel therapy that can combat lymph node metastasis in rectal cancer with no toxicity and reduced side effects will be of extraordinary benefit to a significant number of rectal cancer patients.

In my research, a clinically approved PDT drug, verteporfin will be encapsulated into sub-100 nm hybrid lipid nanoparticles which can carry and direct the PDT drug to cancer cells and a low dose of radiation triggers activation of the PDT drug. Then, the therapeutic effect of the lipid nanoparticles in cell work and animal studies will be tested. Our group has developed a novel strategy named X-ray induced photodynamic therapy (X-PDT) which enables chemotherapy-free treatment of deep cancer with low dose of X-ray radiation. These preliminary results studied in our group support the hypothesis of my PhD project that low dose X-PDT delivered from liposome nanoparticles is a potential anti-cancer treatment for rectal cancer and its local lymph node metastases.

What is the translational application of your research?

The bespoke lipid nanoparticles developed in this project were exclusively made from clinically approved agents (including FDA-approved lipids and a PDT drug) thus ensuring rapid progress through the regulatory pathway. This new technology has a powerful potential for commercialization in the cancer nanomedicine market. Verteporfin (trade name Visudyne) used in the lipid nanoparticles, is an existing PDT drug developed by Novartis. This drug is usually used for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration by PDT. By adapting this drug for cancer treatment, this new strategy will open a radical new direction for its applicability, a step that would be of interest to industry partners for the commercialization of this new frontier. In addition, this delivery system will result in improved patient survival rate and improved patient’s quality of life with less toxicity and side effects.

How would the TCRN PhD top-up Scholarship help you succeed?

This TCRN scholarship would remarkably help me to reduce financial stress, allowing me to pay more attention on my research. More importantly, it enables me to network with some other researchers who have similar academic fields by providing the opportunities for us to attend relevant conferences and professional workshops. Attending these activities arranged by TCRN will greatly enrich my knowledge about translational cancer research and help my project achieve real translational impacts in the future.