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Nanoparticles Cause Cancer Cells to Self-Destruct

Researchers develop novel treatment approach

Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumor cells to self-destruct sounds like science fiction, but it could be a part of cancer treatment in the future, according to researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

“The clever thing about the technique is that we can target selected cells without harming surrounding tissue. There are many ways to kill cells, but this method is contained and remote-controlled,” said Professor Erik Renström.

The new technique, described in the U.S. journal ACS Nano, involves getting the nanoparticles into a tumor cell, where they bind to lysosomes, the units in the cell that perform “cleaning patrols.” The lysosomes have the ability to break down foreign substances that have entered a cell. They can also break down the entire cell through apoptosis.

The researchers used nanoparticles of iron oxide that had been treated with a special form of magnetism. Once the particles are inside cancer cells, the cells are exposed to a magnetic field, and the nanoparticles begin to rotate in a way that causes the lysosomes to start destroying the cells.

The researchers at Lund University are not the first to try to treat cancer using supermagnetic nanoparticles. However, previous attempts have focused on using the magnetic field to create heat that kills the cancer cells. The problem with that approach, Renström says, is that the heat can cause inflammation that risks harming surrounding, healthy tissue. The new method, in which the rotation of the magnetic nanoparticles can be controlled, affects only the tumor cells that the nanoparticles have entered.

The new technique is primarily intended for cancer treatment, but according to Renström there may be other areas of application. One example is autoimmune diseases, such as type-1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own insulin production.

The researchers have a patent pending for their technique with the rotating nanoparticles. However, a lot of work remains before it can be transferred from the laboratory to clinical trials in patients.

Source: Lund University; April 3, 2014.

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