'Chemo bomb' nanotechnology effective in halting tumors

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed a novel way of getting chemotherapeutic drugs into cancer cells: stringing together chains of nanoparticles loaded with drugs, and then detonating them once they've penetrated a tumor.

The method works like this: The scientists take magnetic, iron-oxide nanoparticles and alter the surfaces so they bind together in a chain, and then fill them with cancer-fighting doxorubicin. In a trial, the researchers injected the nanochains into mice with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. After waiting a day for the chains to embed themselves within the tumors, the scientists placed a solenoid wire coil next to the mice, creating a radiofrequency field that vibrated and detonated the nanoparticles, dispersing the drug into the heart of the tumor.

And the results were positive. When compared with cancerous rats receiving normal doses of doxorubicin, those treated with the nanochains experienced half the tumor growth and a higher rate of cancer cell death. In those rats who received two doses of the nano treatment, tumor growth was reduced to one-tenth that of those treated traditionally. The twice treated rats also survived for 31 more days than the traditionally treated ones.

"Other nanotechnology has been used to get a drug inside a tumor, but once the drug gets in the door, it stays by the door, missing most of the building," said Professor Efstathios Karathanasis, leader of Case's research team. "We used a different kind of nanotechnology to smuggle the drug inside the tumor and to explode the bomb, releasing the drug in its free form to spread throughout the entire tumor."

While much more study and additional trials are certainly in store, the researchers note their method wasn't just more effective than traditional chemo, but it was also safer. The nanochains contain only about 5% to 10% of the doxorubicin used in standard chemo, reducing the chances of toxic drugs harming healthy cells.

The results of the experiment were published in the journal ACS Nano this month.

- read the release from Case Western Reserve
- check out the ACS Nano article (reg. req.)