Nitric oxide-delivering particles could improve neuroblastoma treatment fivefold

A tiny particle developed by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia could boost the effectiveness of neuroblastoma chemotherapy. Neuroblastoma is a childhood brain cancer and while it can be treated, the high doses of chemotherapy needed can have long-term effects.

Nitric oxide (NO) is a small and simple molecule but is very important for cell signaling, and dilates blood vessels. Nitric oxide only lasts for a few seconds in the blood before it binds to hemoglobin, the iron-rich oxygen-carrying molecules in the blood, and has a short shelf life. It has a synergistic effect with some forms of chemotherapy, but previous delivery systems have proved unstable or even toxic.

The team created nontoxic nanoparticles to deliver the nitric oxide and improve its shelf life from two days to more than two weeks, and combining the nanoparticles with chemotherapy improved its effect on neuroblastoma cells on the lab bench.

"When we injected the chemo drug into the neuroblastoma cells that had been pre-treated with our new nitric oxide nanoparticle we needed only one-fifth the dose," says Cyrille Boyer at UNSW.

According to the team, this is the first drug delivery system specifically designed to deliver nitric oxide, and it could also have potential in other diseases such as liver fibrosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders.

As more and more people survive and recover from cancer, their long-term outcomes will be increasingly important. These studies are just on cancer cells in petri dishes and have not yet been studied in animals, let alone humans, so it is far too early to draw any firm conclusions, but if this could increase the effectiveness of cancer drugs it could reduce their side effects, cutting the risk of long-term damage for cancer survivors. The next stage is to tailor the system to deliver the right doses to the right sites, to try it in other cell lines, such as lung and colon cancer cells, and then to move to animal studies.

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