Gold nanoparticles help deliver lethal one-two punch to cancerNovember 14th, 2016
One of the biggest hurdles in treating cancer is getting effective drugs into cancer cells. Gold has been used in medicine for a long time, and now gold nanoparticles have proven to be well suited to being absorbed into cells, safely delivering drugs that could otherwise be blocked.
Tagging gold nanoparticles with a small dose of radiation has helped researchers trace the precious metal as it delivers a drug right into the heart of cancer cells, according to new research.
Researchers from the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology have been working on better ways to transport a drug directly into the control room of cancer cells, where the chromosomes are kept. This specific drug targets a molecule – telomerase – that builds up the protective caps at the end of chromosomes called telomeres.
In most cells of the body, telomeres act like an in-built timer to ensure that the cell does not live past its expiry date. Telomeres shorten each time the cell divides. Once a critical length is reached, the cell can no longer divide and it dies. But cancer cells manage to get around this safety check by reactivating telomerase allowing them to continue to grow out of control.
By engineering the gold nanoparticles and adding the radioactive tracer, the researchers were able to prove that their drug was reaching the desired target in skin cancer cells grown in the lab and was shutting telomerase down, halting cancer’s growth.
A radioactive tracer was used to follow the drug in this study, but the same method can also be used to deliver a dose of radioactivity to cancer cells, helping to kill them. This second dose is especially powerful because by deactivating telomerase makes cancer cells more sensitive to radiation.
Ensuring that treatment is accurately targeted at cancer and avoids healthy cells is the goal for much of cancer research, and this study is an exciting step towards that.
Using another type of natural compound NBCF-funded Dr Raman Rohanizadeh (pictured), is investigating a new combination of treatment to prevent breast cancer spreading to the bones, where it is currently incurable.
By combining nanoparticles of curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric which has anti-inflammatory properties, with bisphosphonates which are used for osteoporosis because their ability to bind to bone, the treatment could have two advantages: i) the nanoparticles will kill breast cancer cells lodged in bone; and ii) slow the renewal process of bone that attracts and stimulates cancer cells.
These exciting studies are paving the way for improving how cancer, in particular breast cancer, are treated in future.