Nanoparticle 'smart bomb' targets drug delivery to cancer cells

February 12, 2009

Researchers at North Carolina State University have successfully modified a common plant virus to deliver drugs only to specific cells inside the human body, without affecting surrounding tissue. These tiny "smart bombs" - each one thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair - could lead to more effective chemotherapy treatments with greatly reduced, or even eliminated, side effects.

Drs. Stefan Franzen, professor of chemistry, and Steven Lommel, professor of plant pathology and genetics, collaborated on the project, utilizing the special properties of a fairly common and non-toxic plant virus as a means to convey drugs to the target cells.

The researchers say that the virus is appealing in both its ability to survive outside of a plant host and its built-in "cargo space" of 17 nanometers, which can be used to carry chemotherapy drugs directly to tumor cells. The researchers deploy the virus by attaching small proteins, called signal peptides, to its exterior that cause the virus to "seek out" particular cells, such as cancer cells. Those same signal peptides serve as "passwords" that allow the virus to enter the cancer cell, where it releases its cargo.

"We had tried a number of different nanoparticles as cell-targeting vectors," Franzen says. "The plant virus is superior in terms of stability, ease of manufacture, ability to target cells and ability to carry therapeutic cargo."

Calcium is the key to keeping the virus' cargo enclosed. When the virus is in the bloodstream, calcium is also abundant. Inside individual cells, however, calcium levels are much lower, which allows the virus to open, delivering the cancer drugs only to the targeted cells.

"Another factor that makes the virus unique is the toughness of its shell," Lommel says. "When the virus is in a closed state, nothing will leak out of the interior, and when it does open,
it opens slowly, which means that the virus has time to enter the cell nucleus before deploying its cargo, which increases the drug's efficacy."

The researchers believe that their method will alleviate the side effects of common chemotherapy treatments, while maximizing the effectiveness of the treatment.

Source: North Carolina State University

Explore further: UT study: Lack of ZZZZs may zap cell growth, brain activity

Related Stories

UT study: Lack of ZZZZs may zap cell growth, brain activity

October 30, 2015

Lack of adequate sleep can do more than just make you tired. It can short-circuit your system and interfere with a fundamental cellular process that drives physical growth, physiological adaptation and even brain activity, ...

Molecular immunity from microbes

November 12, 2015

A new molecular biology tool derived from a bacterial defense system has been used for the first time by KAUST researchers to demonstrate a novel way to protect plants against viral pathogens.

Recommended for you

Physicists develop new technique to fathom 'smart' materials

November 26, 2015

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and Leiden University have found a way to better understand the properties of manmade 'smart' materials. Their method reveals how stacked layers in such a material work together to bring ...

Mathematicians identify limits to heat flow at the nanoscale

November 24, 2015

How much heat can two bodies exchange without touching? For over a century, scientists have been able to answer this question for virtually any pair of objects in the macroscopic world, from the rate at which a campfire can ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 12, 2009
Just COOL those cells and you will not have to KILL them. Their mitosis rate will slow and the mitochondria will regain control! You will be right back in there killing more cells next year!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.