Immunotherapy supercharges metal nanoparticles to destroy cancer cells
An international team of cancer researchers has developed a new type of copper-based nanoparticle that can kill tumor cells in mice. While the technology showed effectiveness on its own, by combining it with immunotherapy the scientists say it produced long-lasting effects, quickly killing off any cancer cells that dared to return.
The therapy centers on new knowledge around tumors’ aversion to certain types of nanoparticles. The research team made up of scientists from KU Leuven, the University of Bremen, the Leibniz Institute of Materials Engineering, and the University of Ioannina, discovered that tumor cells were particularly sensitive to nanoparticles made from copper and oxygen.
Once these copper oxide nanoparticles enter a living organism they dissolve and become toxic, killing off cancer cells that happen to be in the area. Key to the new nanoparticle design was the addition of iron oxide, which the researchers say enables it to kill off cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
When conducting experiments using the nanoparticle to kill tumor cells in mice, the scientists found its effects to be short-lived, with cancer soon returning – which they expected. To address this the team combined the treatment with immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. They then observed some very impressive results.
Not only did the combination therapy make the tumors completely disappear, it proved effective at keeping them at bay. Following the treatment on lung and colon cancer in the animal models, the researchers injected more tumor cells into the mice and found they were swiftly killed off. It appears the immune system was on high alert, ready to identify and eliminate any similar foreign cells that invaded and posed a threat.
“As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that metal oxides are used to efficiently fight cancer cells with long-lasting immune effects in live models,” explains KU Leuven’s Professor Stefaan Soenen “As a next step, we want to create other metal nanoparticles, and identify which particles affect which types of cancer. This should result in a comprehensive database.”
For their research, the scientists used common cancer cells derived from the p53 gene. This means that the technique could be used to tackle around 60 percent of all cancers, including common types like lung, breast, ovarian and colon.
The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
Source: KU Leuven