UCLA team snuffs cancer cells with nanoshell delivery

Apoptin's nanoshell delivery--Courtesy of UCLA

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have created what could be a new way to treat cancer, combining nanotechnology with a genetic kill switch.

The UCLA team wrapped a cell-destroying package--apoptin, a protein that comes from a bird anemia virus--in a nanosized polymer shell. Apoptin sends a "self-destruct" message to tumor cells as it builds up in the nucleus. But the poison is selective and degrades harmlessly in healthy cells due to the nature of its water-soluble shell.

In tests done on human breast cancer cells implanted in lab mice, the treatment significantly curtailed the tumors' growth, according to the university.

The treatment toes the line between chemotherapy and gene therapy, both used against cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, the nanoparticles are only fatal for tumor cells, but they don't risk the consequence of genetic mutation that accompanies gene therapy.

"Delivering a large protein complex such as apoptin to the innermost compartment of tumor cells was a challenge, but the reversible polymer encapsulation strategy was very effective in protecting and escorting the cargo in its functional form," said lead author and graduate student Muxun Zhao in a prepared statement.

UCLA professor Yi Tang leads the group, which published its findings in the reviewed journal Nano Today.

- here's the UCLA release