Potential dual role for nanoparticles in cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists in the USA have developed a new nanoparticle system that may be able to launch a two-pronged attack on cancer.

The nanoparticles could be used to deliver anti-cancer drugs directly to tumour cells, whilst also blocking tumour blood vessels.

Many nanoparticle systems have been developed with the aim of delivering drugs to tumours.

But the unique feature of this system is that once the particles bind to the tumour, they set off a chain reaction that increases the binding of further particles.

This happens because the nanoparticles bind specifically to proteins in blood clots found in the tumour blood vessels. Once bound, the nanoparticles cause more clotting to occur, allowing more nanoparticles to bind.

It is this activation of blood clotting which gives the nanoparticles their second potential anti-cancer function. The clots formed block tumour blood vessels, starving the cells of the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive.

Currently, using nanoparticles blocks only 20 per cent of the blood vessels in a tumour. This is not enough to kill the tumour, but the researchers hope to increase the number of vessels blocked.

The system has not yet been tested in patients, but it is currently being optimised to enable the particles to carry anti-cancer drugs and to increase its ability to block tumour blood supply.

The reasearch carried out by a team led by Dr Erkki Ruoslahti at the University of California is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA.