SwRI team to develop bone-targeting nanocapsules

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a three-year, $1.6 million contract to SwRI to develop bone-targeting nanocapsules for fighting myeloma and metastatic bone cancers. These secondary bone cancers are more common and deadly than primary bone cancer, which is rare.

More than 500,000 people will die from cancer in 2005, and most of these patients will have been affected by metastasis, cancer that started elsewhere in the body and spread to the bone. Myeloma, a blood-borne disease that is uniformly fatal, affects approximately 70,000 Americans and accounts for about 2 percent of all cancer deaths.

The program is intended to determine, in pre-clinical studies, the potential of skeletally targeted proteasome inhibitors as an effective and selective treatment for myeloma. Proteasome inhibitors have been under study as a treatment for myeloma and other cancers. They limit the function of the proteasome, part of the cell machinery responsible for cleaning up proteins involved in cellular function once they have completed their task.

"Our technology can potentially increase the localization of the drug in the bone microenvironment," said Dr. Neal K. Vail, a principal engineer in the Microencapsulation, Nanomaterials and Process Engineering Department in SwRI's Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. "We formulate our bone-targeting nanocapsules to seek out areas of active bone resorption, which is in high gear in myeloma. This allows us to localize the drug at the site of the cancerous lesion where it can be the most effective."

Due to their function, proteasome inhibitors can have diverse and serious side effects. However, if they could be targeted to a specific site to act on the necessary cells, their effectiveness in treating cancer could be greatly increased.

"Enter bone targeting," Vail said.

The three-year study will formulate bone-targeting nanocapsules, determine their in vivo biodistribution and evaluate the success of using them to target proteasome inhibitors to myeloma lesions. In collaboration with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC-SA), SwRI will use combinations of radiolabel imaging and micro-computed tomography to map the distribution of the nanocapsules. In collaboration with Osteoscreen Inc., SwRI will examine the potential of the targeted therapy using a myeloma cell line engineered to fluoresce. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington will also contribute to the program.

"Bone targeting has the potential to significantly reduce systemic exposure, reduce dosage requirements, and mitigate possible toxicity of proteasome inhibitors and other agents," Vail said. "This technology has tremendous potential for new therapies for bone pathologies including osteoporosis, fracture repair, implant fixation and tissue engineering."

The Institute completed an internal research program on the development of nanocapsule vehicles for targeted delivery of therapeutic agents in 2003. The research focused on targeted delivery to bone.

For more than 50 years, the Institute has been a leader in the microencapsulation of products for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial, consumer goods, and food industries and has pioneered the development of new microencapsulation techniques.

Contact James Oxley at (210) 522-2913 or, or Joe Persyn at (210) 522-2691 or

SwRI, Chinese agree to form new automotive joint venture

SwRI and the state-owned China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC) have agreed to form a joint-venture company to provide research, development and technical evaluation services for automotive products, components and systems in China.

The joint venture, called Tianjin SwARC Automotive Research Laboratory Co., Ltd., will be located in Tianjin City, People's Republic of China.

The company will provide independent and impartial evaluation of automotive products, powertrain components and automotive system designs. It also will develop test protocols for evaluating exhaust aftertreatment devices and systems and will organize and conduct consortium research and development experiments and tests for the Chinese government and transportation and energy industries.

SwRI, which currently operates a representative business office in Beijing, will establish a technical presence in China and further its scientific purposes through its participation in the joint venture. SwARC will draw on SwRI's expertise in automotive emissions research and its leadership role in developing test protocols for diesel aftertreatment evaluations in the U.S. It will utilize laboratories, equipment and buildings owned by CATARC.

SwRI will own 55 percent of the new company and will nominate four of seven directors for its board.

CATARC, based in Tianjin, is a state-owned technical and administrative entity of the Chinese automotive industry. It provides standardization and technical regulation, product certification and testing research, quality system certification, information and databases for the auto industry, engineering management and design, enterprise management science research, and automotive high-technology development and applications.

SwRI to lead Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission

Photo courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corporation

NASA has chosen SwRI to lead the first mission to image the outer boundaries of the solar system, the region separating our solar system from interstellar space. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is NASA's next Small Explorer. The Explorer Program develops low-cost, rapidly developed space science investigations.

"IBEX will make the first images of the interstellar boundaries beyond our solar system, thereby providing a first step to exploring the galactic frontier," said Principal Investigator Dr. David J. McComas, senior executive director of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. The IBEX spacecraft carries a pair of energetic neutral atom (ENA) "cameras" to image interactions between the solar wind blown out by the Sun and the low-density material between the stars - interactions never before observed directly. "This mission will provide a much deeper understanding of the Sun's interaction with the galaxy and will also address a serious challenge facing manned exploration by studying the region that shields us from the majority of galactic cosmic ray radiation," McComas added.

The Sun's hot outer atmosphere continuously evaporates into space, forming the million-mile-per-hour solar wind that creates a protective envelope around the solar system, far beyond the most distant planets. IBEX will image the solar system's previously invisible outer boundaries to discover how the solar wind interacts with the galactic medium.

"In addition to revealing many of the interstellar boundary's unknown properties, IBEX will explore how the solar wind regulates the radiation from the galaxy," McComas said. "This radiation poses a major hazard to human space exploration and may have affected the formation and evolution of life on Earth. By examining the underlying physics of our solar system's outer boundaries, IBEX will allow us to extrapolate the present day conditions to those of the past and the future, and offer insight into similar boundaries that surround other stars and stellar systems." 

To achieve this important mission, SwRI and its partners are developing a small, lightweight spacecraft to launch from a Pegasus rocket dropped from an airplane. The spacecraft will attain a highly elliptical orbit that reaches 150 thousand miles above the Earth.

The IBEX payload consists of two imagers designed to detect neutral atoms from the solar system's outer boundaries and galactic medium. For IBEX, SwRI is partnering with Orbital Science Corporation, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of New Hampshire and the Applied Physics Laboratory. The team also includes a number of U.S. and international scientists from universities and other institutions, as well as Chicago's Adler Planetarium, which is leading education and public outreach for the mission.

IBEX is expected to cost approximately $134 million and is slated to launch around 2008. It will return global images of the interstellar interaction by the end of the decade.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the Explorer Program for the Science Mission Directorate.

Contact McComas at (210) 522-5983 or

New name reflects SwRI division's expanding program

SwRI's newly reorganized Geosciences and Engineering Division will serve a broader client base with earth, material and planetary sciences applications.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) established the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses (CNWRA) at the Institute in 1987 as a federally funded research and development center. The division's growing technology base was for many years dedicated exclusively to the NRC's high-level waste program.

"This is a very significant move for SwRI," said Dr. Wesley C. Patrick, division vice president. "The breadth and depth of CNWRA expertise have been long recognized, but federal procurement law prevented the CNWRA from contracting with federal agencies other than the NRC. Creation of the new department opens the door to providing its expertise to other federal agencies, as well as commercial organizations in the United States and abroad."

The division now comprises the Earth, Material and Planetary Sciences Department in addition to the CNWRA. 

Dr. Budhi Sagar has been promoted to division executive director and succeeds Patrick as president of the CNWRA. He will be SwRI's primary contact with the NRC. He formerly served as CNWRA technical director.

Dr. David A. Ferrill has been promoted to director of the Earth, Material and Planetary Sciences Department. He had been a senior program manager in the CNWRA. 

The division offers programs in geochemistry, geology and geophysics, hydrology, corrosion science and process engineering, mining, geotechnical and facility engineering, performance assessment, earth and planetary sciences, and geological and aerospace materials. 

Contact Patrick at (210) 522-5158 or

Mars rover mission to carry SwRI Radiation Assessment Detector instrument

NASA has selected an instrument to characterize the radiation at the surface of Mars for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The mission, part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, will explore the viability of the surface of the red planet as a potential habitat for past or present life.

For this purpose, SwRI is developing the Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, to characterize the broad spectrum of radiation at the surface. The investigation will determine the radiation hazards faced by astronauts on Mars.

"Understanding the space radiation environment is the single most important challenge to preparing for future human exploration of Mars," said Dr. Donald M. Hassler, RAD principal investigator and section manager in the SwRI Space Studies Department. "We need to understand the radiation input at the Martian surface so we can design shelters, habitats and spacesuits with sufficient shielding to protect astronauts."

"With this instrument we will perform the first-ever measurements of cosmic rays on the surface of another planet," said Dr. Arik Posner, RAD project scientist and researcher in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "The data will help us to better understand the unique Martian radiation environment and its influence on past and present life, and is thus essential for the Space Exploration Initiative."

The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters is funding the RAD development.

Seven other instruments were also selected for the MSL, including a mast camera, a Mars hand lens imager and a Mars descent imager, all led by Malin Space Science Systems; a chemistry and micro-imaging sensor, led by Los Alamos; an alpha-particle-X-ray-spectrometer, led by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry; an X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument, led by the NASA Ames Research Center; and a sample analysis instrument, led by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. MSL will also carry a pulsed neutron source and detector for measuring hydrogen, provided by the Russian Federal Space Agency. The project will also include a meteorological package and an ultraviolet sensor provided by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.

The Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled for a 2009 launch, will operate under its own power for a service life of one Mars year (approximately two Earth years). The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages MSL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Contact Hassler at (303) 546-0683 or

Joint DOE/GMRC contract to develop advanced reciprocating compressor technology

The U.S. Department of Energy (Office of Fossil Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory-Delivery Reliability Program) and the Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC) have awarded a five-year, $5 million contract to SwRI to develop the next generation of reciprocating compressor technology.

The objective of the Advanced Reciprocating Compression Technology (ARCT) program is to develop compressor technology that will enhance the flexibility, efficiency, reliability and integrity of pipeline operations. The ARCT program will target five specific areas: pulsation control; capacity control; valves; sensors and automation; and systems integration.

Over the past few years, the gas industry has moved steadily toward higher-speed, larger-horsepower reciprocating compression powered by gas engines or large electric motors. These powerful machines run at two to three times the speed of the previous generation of compressors, but the increased speed and power have resulted in severe problems during start-up and initial operation. Also, varying speed complicates pulsation control, and higher speeds have resulted in significant losses in compressor efficiency, contributed to in part by both pulsation control and conventional valve technology.

"This program will advance a number of promising concepts including intelligent compression technology that monitors operational conditions and automatically adjusts internal geometry to tune performance over the entire operating range," said ARCT Program Manager Danny M. Deffenbaugh, director of SwRI's Mechanical and Fluids Engineering Department.

"The suite of technologies developed during this program not only will provide pipeline operators with improved, affordable choices for new compression, but also will provide innovative products that can be retrofitted to existing machines to substantially improve the current infrastructure," he added.

Deffenbaugh said the first phase of the project, which is under way, is to develop solutions for each of the five target areas. The second phase will be developing prototypes, and the third phase, demonstrating and commercializing products.

The Department of Energy is providing 65 percent of the funding with the remaining 35 percent funded by GMRC and its member companies. The first year of the program is being co-funded by El Paso Corporation, BP, Ariel Corporation, Compressor Systems Inc. and Caterpillar(r). For more than 50 years, SwRI has provided services to the gas industry and has conducted the GMRC research and development program.

Contact Deffenbaugh at (210) 522-2384 or

Published in the Spring 2005 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

Spring 2005 Technology Today
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