Cloaking device boldly delivers toxins to tumor

Yes, Star Trek geeks can rejoice. There is now a "cloaking device" for drug delivery. At least, that's how researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst describe what they're doing. In the current issue of Nature Chemistry, Vincent Rotello says he and his team can deliver a dormant toxin into a specific site such as a tumor for anti-cancer therapy, then chemically trigger the toxin to "de-cloak" and attack the Romul ... I mean, tumor, from within.

Here's how it works. Rotello and his colleagues coated gold nanoparticles with a ligand, or binding molecules, that made the particles toxic. These same ligands, however, can also attach themselves to a hollow, bowl-shaped molecule called a cucurbituril that can make the particle nontoxic. So, introduce the gold nanoparticles nesting comfortably in the "bowl" and everything’s fine. Introduce another molecule that binds strongly to the cucurbiturils, pulling it away, and suddenly a toxic gold nanoparticle seems to appear out of nowhere, on a mission to bravely go seek out a tumor.

"This triggered toxicity opens up new directions for controlled chemotherapeutics, where toxicity can be tuned by and directed through choice and amount of added activator," Rotello says. "They would be capable of achieving higher levels of site-specific activity with reduced collateral damage to surrounding healthy cells."

- see the UMass Amherst release

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