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Tumor-targeting Nanodevices

Photonics.com
Sep 2008
SAN DIEGO, Calif., Sept. 12, 2008 – Dubbed nano-sized cargo ships, scientists from UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT are boasting a nanodevice that sails through the bloodstream and attacks cancerous tumors, while avoiding rapid removal by the body’s natural immune system.

“The idea involves encapsulating imaging agents and drugs into a protective ‘mother ship’ that evades the natural processes that normally would remove these payloads if they were unprotected,” said Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD who headed the team of chemists, biologists and engineers. “These mother ships are only 50 nanometers in diameter, or 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, and are equipped with an array of molecules on their surfaces that enable them to find and penetrate tumor cells in the body.”Nano-Cargo-Ship.jpg


A vial of anti-cancer nano ships glows red under a black light. The particles glow red because they contain fluorescent "quantum dot" nanoparticles. Photo courtesy of Luo Gu, UC San Diego.

These microscopic cargo ships could one day provide the means to more effectively deliver toxic anti-cancer drugs to tumors in high concentrations without negatively impacting other parts of the body.

“Many drugs look promising in the laboratory, but fail in humans because they do not reach the diseased tissue in time or at concentrations high enough to be effective,” said Sangeeta Bhatia, a physician, bioengineer and professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT who played a key role in the development.

“These drugs don’t have the capability to avoid the body’s natural defenses or to discriminate their intended targets from healthy tissues. In addition, we lack the tools to detect diseases such as cancer at the earliest stages of development, when therapies can be most effective.”

The researchers designed the hull of the ships to evade detection by constructing them of specially modified lipids, a primary component of the surface of natural cells. The lipids were modified in such a way as to enable them to circulate in the bloodstream for many hours before being eliminated. This was demonstrated by the researchers in a series of experiments with mice.

The researchers also designed the material of the hull to be strong enough to prevent accidental release of its cargo while circulating through the bloodstream.  

Tethered to the surface of the hull is a protein called F3, a molecule that sticks to cancer cells.  Prepared in the laboratory of Erkki Ruoslahti, a cell biologist and professor at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research at UC Santa Barbara, F3 was engineered to specifically home in on tumor cell surfaces and then transport itself into their nuclei.

“We are now constructing the next generation of smart tumor-targeting nanodevices,” said Ruoslahti. “We hope that these devices will improve the diagnostic imaging of cancer and allow pinpoint targeting of treatments into cancerous tumors.”

The cargo ships are loaded with two types of nanoparticles, superparamagnetic iron oxide and fluorescent quantum dots, along with the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin. The iron oxide nanoparticles allow the ships to show up in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, scan, while the quantum dots can be seen with another type of imaging tool, a fluorescence scanner.

“The fluorescence image provides higher resolution than MRI,” said Sailor. “One can imagine a surgeon identifying the specific location of a tumor in the body before surgery with an MRI scan, then using fluorescence imaging to find and remove all parts of the tumor during the operation.”

Much to their surprise, the researchers found that a single mother-ship can carry multiple iron oxide nanoparticles, which increases their brightness in the MRI image.

“The ability of these nanostructures to carry more than one superparamagnetic nanoparticle makes them easier to see by MRI, which should translate to earlier detection of smaller tumors,” said Sailor. “The fact that the ships can carry very dissimilar payloads - a magnetic nanoparticle, a fluorescent quantum dot, and a small molecule drug - was a real surprise.”

The researchers noted that the construction of so-called “hybrid nanosystems” that contain multiple different types of nanoparticles is being explored by several other research groups. While hybrids have been used for various laboratory applications outside of living systems, said Sailor, there are limited studies done in vivo, or within live organisms, particularly for cancer imaging and therapy.

“That’s because of the poor stability and short circulation times within the blood generally observed for these more complicated nanostructures,” he added. As a result, the latest study is unique in one important way.

“This study provides the first example of a single nanomaterial used for simultaneous drug delivery and multimode imaging of diseased tissue in a live animal,” said Ji-Ho Park, a graduate student in Sailor’s laboratory who was part of the team.

Geoffrey von Maltzahn, a graduate student working in Bhatia’s laboratory, was also involved in the project, which was financed by a grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers are now working on developing ways to chemically treat the exteriors of the nano ships with specific chemical “zip codes,” that will allow them to be delivered to specific tumors, organs and other sites in the body.

For more information, visit: www.ucsd.edu


 



GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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