Cancer-fighting nanoparticles carry medicine to tumors in the lungs

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A new nanoparticle is capable of carrying cancer-fighting drugs to a tumor site in the lungs before releasing them (Image: Shutterstock)

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Scientists have developed drug-carrying nanoparticles capable of targeting cancer tissue in the lungs. By engineering the devices to release their payloads only once they reach the site of the tumor, the researchers hope to reduce the size of dosages required and also limit the side effects of conventional treatments.

Nanoparticles have opened up some promising possibilities in the fight against cancer. Two key areas of research are how they might be engineered to attack cancerous cells with better precision and how they can help in detecting cancer early on, while some are even working on multi-tasking nanoparticles that do both.

Now, a team of scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich have developed a nanoparticle aimed at destroying cancerous tissue in the lungs. They say it can do so by only releasing its payload once it reaches the site, key to mitigating side effects and ineffective doses.

The scientists added a protective layer to the nanoparticles, designed to stop the medicine inside from being released into the body prematurely. The nanoparticles are designed in such a way that this protective layer can only be broken down by a particular enzyme, an enzyme that is found in high concentrations in lung tumors.

And because the concentration of this enzyme in healthy tissue is too low to crack open the coating, it means that the cancer-fighting drugs remain safely inside until they reach the site of the tumor.

"We observed that the drug's effectiveness in the tumor tissue was 10 to 25 times greater compared to when the drugs were used on their own," says lead researcher Dr Silke Meiners. "At the same time, this approach also makes it possible to decrease the total dose of medicines and consequently to reduce undesirable effects."

The researchers now have plans to conduct further work to explore the safety and effectiveness of the approach in vivo and in advanced lung tumor mouse models.

The research was published in the journal ACS Nano.

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