Boston College team makes zinc nano-cages for 'smart' cancer drug delivery

Lead author Frank Tsung and team member Eranthie Weerapana--Courtesy of Boston College

Researchers at Boston College have created a small cage out of metals and organic materials that can act as a "smart" delivery vehicle to carry cancer drugs.

The nano-scale metal organic frameworks had until this point been unstable in the body, but, as published in the journal ACS Nano, the Boston College team made them more robust and less likely to break down before delivering drugs to a tumor.

To make the framework, the team linked many zinc ions together, which formed structures able to capture small molecules, according to a report from the college. These cages were then linked together to make a "constellation" that would be large enough to remain viable in the body but also small enough to get through the cell membrane.

And finally, the scientists programmed the vehicles to release the drugs in cancer cells when confronted with a more acidic environment. Cancer cells in general have a lower, or more acidic, pH level, which often makes for an accurate target for the drugs. And the cages could also contain iron oxide, which would allow for magnetic targeting, as well.

"It is the body's own mechanisms that trigger the release of the drug, which is a huge advantage," lead author Frank Tsung said in a statement. "When the nanosphere enters the cancer cell, the lower pH level destabilizes the structure, which begins to break apart and releases the drug so it can begin to do its job of attacking and killing cancer cells."

Next, the team is looking to arm the cages with antibodies to more accurately target tumors using the body's immune response.

- here's the Boston College report
- and here's the abstract