Researchers have developed tiny biochemical bundles to carry chemotherapy drugs into tumors and light up when surrounding cancer cells start dying.
Future iterations of these lab-made particles could allow doctors to monitor the effects of cancer treatment in real time.
About 100-nanometer-wide particle consists of a drug and a fluorescent dye linked to a coiled molecular chain. Before the particles enter cells, the dye is tethered to a molecule that prevents it from lighting up. The nanoparticles accumulate in tumor cells and release the drug, which activates a protein that tears a cancer cell apart. This cell-splitting protein kills the tumor cell and also severs the link between the dye and the quencher, which allows the nanoparticles to glow under infrared light.
Prior techniques allowed drugs to be tracked entering tumors. However, that process didn’t tell doctors whether or not the drug was working.
The team tested the nanoparticles in mice that each had two types of tumors, one resistant to the drug in the particles and one responsive to the drug. Drug-sensitive tumors glowed around five times as intensely as the resistant tumors.
Researchers were able to test the nanoparticles as immunotherapy agents by replacing the particles’ cancer drug with antibodies that summoned the body’s tumor fighting defenses. In this situation, tumors lit up after five day which reflected an initial lag time of immunotherapy compared with chemotherapy.
The next step includes redesigning the nanoparticles using clinically approved materials and dyes that would be easier to track in the human body with the use of an MRI machine. Unfortunately, imaging chemicals can be toxic, which could pose a problem for the nanoparticles design. Dyes should be cleared from the body as quickly as possible.
The study’s focus on detecting drug performance in real time is very important and demands further research.