Starting from whole libraries of random peptides, the Ruoslahti lab has identified those that wind up homing specifically to tumor tissue. Injected into the circulation of a mouse, they accumulate at the tumor site, revealing characteristics of the blood vessels there—what the team calls “vascular zip codes”. The same is also true of the lymphatic vasculature. The Ruoslahti lab uses synthetic tumor-homing peptides to target drugs into the tumor, which not only increases their efficacy but reduces harmful side effects, as well. The receptors of these peptides themselves are another point of interest for the lab, as they, too, may serve as targets for drug development.
Related work in the lab focuses on cell attachment/detachment and cancer metastasis, and using homing peptides to target cancer-fighting nanoparticles directly into the vasculature of a tumor.