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Gene-Spiked Nanoparticles Nuke Tumors

As reflected in recent Medtech Pulse postings, there's a lot going on in the area of nanotechnology-based cancer research—the stuff of future medical device inventions. Here's the latest news.

Scientists from Cancer Research UK (London) have learned how to use nanoparticles to selectively transport genes into cancer cells in order to kill them. Headed by Andreas Schatzlein from the School of Pharmacy, University of London, the research team discovered not only how to insert antitumor genes into nanoparticles and keep them stable but also how to make them target cancer cells exclusively, leaving healthy cells unaffected.

Once inside a tumor, the genes inside the nanoparticles switch on in response to the cancerous environment, issuing instructions to make proteins that are toxic only to the cancer cells. According to Schatzlein, "This is the first time that nanoparticles have been shown to target tumors in such a selective way, and this is an exciting step forward in the field."

Like other recent advances in cancer research, Schatzlein's method does not kill cells indiscriminately, in contrast to chemotherapy. Hence it can prevent such debilitating side effects as fatigue, hair loss, and nausea that result from killing all the cells in an affected area, including healthy ones.

For this study, the research team produced colloidally stable nanoparticles ranging in size from 33 to 286 nm. The particles were able to carry evenly distributed DNA molecules and diffuse them into experimental tumors in live mice. After inserting the gene-laced nanoparticles into the mice, the team used a small-animal nano-single-photon emission computed tomography scanner and a human Na/I symporter (NIS) as the reporter gene to confirm that the nanoparticles had targeted and entered only the cancer cells.

The researchers concluded, "Considering that NIS imaging of transgene expression has been recently validated in humans, our data highlight the potential of these nanoparticles as a new formulation for cancer gene therapy. Schatzlein remarks, "We hope this therapy will be used to treat cancer patients in clincial trials in a couple of years."

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