Metal 'nano-terminator' liquefies on demand to bring cancer down

Researchers Zhen Gu (right) and Yue Lu (seated)--Courtesy of NC State

Researchers from the NC State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have created a liquid metal that can target cancer cells and is also biodegradable.

Like the 1991 science fiction sequel villain, the "nano-terminator" is a flexible metal that can liquefy on demand. The nanoscale droplets can also be loaded with cancer-seeking ligands and the common cancer drug doxorubicin, making it an effective treatment when it encounters tumors. The higher acidity of the tumor breaks the metal down but takes the doxorubicin in.

The scientists published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

"The advance here is that we have a drug-delivery technique that may enhance the effectiveness of the drugs being delivered, can help doctors locate tumors, can be produced in bulk, and appears to be wholly biodegradable with very low toxicity," author Zhen Gu said in a statement. "And one of the advantages of this technique is that these liquid metal drug carriers--or 'nano-terminators'--are very easy to make."

What's more is that the degradation of the metal, which is a gallium indium alloy, actually improves the performance of the cancer drug, according to the team.

"This was a proof-of-concept study, but very encouraging," Gu said. "Like the fictional Terminator, this carrier is transformable: smashed from bulk material, fused inside cancer cells and eventually degraded and cleared. We are hoping to do additional testing in a large animal study to get closer to potential clinical trials."

- here's the NC State report
- read the research article