A team of researchers including a group at MIT has developed a “cocktail” of different nanometer-sized particles that work in concert within the bloodstream to locate, adhere to and kill cancerous tumors
“This study represents the first example of the benefits of employing a cooperative nanosystem to fight cancer,” said Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego and the primary author of a paper describing the results, which is being published in a forthcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In their study, the UC San Diego chemists, bioengineers at MIT and cell biologists at UC Santa Barbara developed a system containing two different nanomaterials the size of only a few nanometers, or a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, that can be injected into the bloodstream. One nanomaterial was designed to find and adhere to tumors in mice, while the second nanomaterial was fabricated to kill those tumors.
These scientists and others had previously designed nanometer-sized devices to attach to diseased cells or deliver drugs specifically to the diseased cells while ignoring healthy cells. But the functions of those devices, the researchers discovered, often conflicted with one another.
When a single drug does not work in a patient, a doctor will commonly administer a cocktail containing several drug molecules. That strategy can be very effective in the treatment of cancer, where the rationale is to attack the disease on as many fronts as possible. Drugs may sometimes work together on a single aspect of the disease, or they may attack separate functions. In either case, drug combinations can provide a greater effect than either drug alone.
Treating tumors with nanoparticles has been challenging because immune cells called mononuclear phagocytes identify them and yank them from circulation, preventing the nanomaterials from reaching their target.