Nanoballoons 'pop' open to deliver cancer drugs when hit with a red laser

PoP-liposomes before and after being hit with a red laser, releasing drugs--Courtesy of Jonathan Lovell

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have put the "pop" into drug delivery by releasing compounds from liposomes called nanoballoons that break open upon being hit with a laser.

The Buffalo scientists, along with colleagues at other institutions, published a study in the journal Nature Communications describing their porphyrin-phospholipid (PoP) liposomes, which consist of the compound porphyrin and a phospholipid. The porphyrins in particular strongly absorb light and convert it to energy.

So, naturally, when a red laser hits these specifically designed liposomes, it triggers the release of what is inside. A foreseeable future for this kind of method is in delivering chemotherapy to cancer cells when they need to be released in a particular spot.

Unlike other drug vehicles, which often break down after delivering their payload, these ones are designed to close back up, according to a report from the university. When they do, they take in some of the proteins and molecules causing the cancer's growth, and a physician can then remove these from the body and assess the chemical nature of a tumor.

Jonathan Lovell

"Think of it this way," lead author Jonathan Lovell of the University at Buffalo said in a statement. "The nanoballoon is a submarine. The drug is the cargo. We use a laser to open the submarine door which releases the drug. We close the door by turning the laser off. We then retrieve the submarine as it circulates through the bloodstream."

"Why (they) open in response to an otherwise harmless red laser is still a bit of a mystery to us, but we have definitely unearthed a new and unique phenomenon," Lovell said. "Its potential for improving how we treat cancer is immense."

The team is currently still performing experiments on mice, but Lovell says clinical trials could begin within the next 5 years.

- here's the University at Buffalo report
- and here's the abstract