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Nanoballoons and Lasers: A New Cancer Fighter

BUFFALO, N.Y., April 3, 2014 — Chemotherapeutic drugs have long held their own in the fight against cancer, but inefficiency in delivery and unwanted side effects continue to hinder the process.

Now, a team from the University at Buffalo, with assistance from the University at Albany, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the University of Waterloo and McMaster University, is developing a new way to deliver these medications.

The new approach encapsulates the drugs in PoP-liposomes, which are tiny, modified liposomes.


A red laser hits the nanoballoons when they reach the cancer cells, triggering them to pop open and release the medication directly at the site. Courtesy of University at Buffalo.

These nanoballoons pop open to deliver concentrated doses of medicine when they are struck by a red laser. They would be delivered to patients intravenously, similar to conventional chemotherapy treatments.

Traditional methods have not been efficient in directly targeting cancer cells, the researchers noted, as they often interact with blood, bone marrow and other bodily systems. Existing delivery methods also dilute the drugs and sometimes cause painful side effects.

By encapsulating the drugs, the nanoballoons greatly reduce any interaction with healthy bodily systems. This has the potential not only to improve cancer treatment, but also to reduce drug side effects and boost research.

"Why PoP-liposomes, or nanoballoons, open in response to an otherwise harmless red laser is still a bit of a mystery to us, but we have definitely unearthed a new and unique phenomenon," said Dr. Jonathan Lovell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UB, and one of the researchers. "Its potential for improving how we treat cancer is immense."

The nanoballoons consist of the organic compound porphyrin and phospholipids. In their lab study of mice, the researchers found that red lasers trigger the nanoballoons to pop open and release the drugs.

Once the laser is turned off, the nanoballoons close while taking in proteins and molecules that may induce cancer growth. At that point, the researchers could remove the nanoballoons by drawing blood or performing a biopsy.

This new nanotechnology provides a “chemical snapshot” of the tumor's environment, something that is typically very difficult to assess, according to Lovell. 

The researchers plan to continue their study and hope to be able to perform human trials within the next five years.

The work is supported by the National Institutes of Health. The research is published in Nature Communications (doi: 10.1038/ncomms4546).

For more information, visit: www.buffalo.edu


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