No, gold-plated liposomes are not a luxury gift that you'll find in your Christmas stocking this year, but they could someday give cancer patients the gift of life by selectively knocking out cancer cells while leaving healthy ones alone. This holiday gift comes courtesy of Marek Romanowski, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the University of Arizona's College of Engineering, along with the grad students in his lab, Xenia Kachur and Sarah Leung.
Drug-carrying liposomes, a game-changing drug-delivery technology, are nanoscale "bubbles" made of organic lipids already present in human cells. Liposomes ordinarily accumulate around a cancer tumor because tumor cells have extra openings to blood vessels to feed the quickly growing disease. So, extra blood flow also means that more liposomes are likely to accumulate in the tumor cells. They break down and release the cancer-fighting therapeutics.
But this breakdown of liposomes at the tumor site is not as controlled as researchers would like it to be. That is where the gold-plating--or coating--comes in. "A property of gold is that it can convert near infrared light into heat," says Kachur in a news feature on UA's website. "By putting gold on the surface of these liposomes, we can then put in a stimulus such as near-infrared light. The gold converts the light into heat, the heat causes the liposome to become leaky, and then whatever's really concentrated inside can diffuse out through the leaky liposome."
So, through controlled use of infrared light, the liposomes leak exactly when and where researchers want them to. But this will have to be a ghost of Christmas future. There's still much research needed before gold-plated liposomes can go under the tree.
- meanwhile, read the UA feature