Nanoparticles cause cancer cells to self-destruct

April 3, 2014

Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to 'self-destruct' sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment, according to research from Lund University in Sweden.

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

The point of the new technique is that it is much more targeted than trying to kill cancer cells with techniques such as chemotherapy. "Chemotherapy can also affect in the body, and it therefore has serious side-effects. Radiotherapy can also affect healthy tissue around the tumour.

"Our technique, on the other hand, is able to attack only the tumour cells", said Enming Zhang, one of the first authors of the study. In brief, the technique involves getting the nanoparticles into a tumour 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 a process known as 'controlled cell death', a type of destruction where damaged cells dissolve themselves.

The video will load shortly

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

The research group at Lund University is not the first to try and treat cancer using supermagnetic nanoparticles. However, previous attempts have focused on using the magnetic field to create heat that kills the . The problem with this is that the heat can cause inflammation that risks harming surrounding, healthy tissue. The new method, on the other hand, in which the rotation of the can be controlled, only affects the that the nanoparticles have entered.

The new technique is primarily intended for , but according to Erik Renström and his colleague Enming Zhang 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 'superparamagnetic nanoparticles' have attracted a lot of interest from academia and industry in recent years. They are being tested in research on new diagnostic laboratory tests, new methods of viewing phenomena in living tissue, and new drugs.

The researchers at Lund University 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 on patients.

The study is a collaboration between physicists, chemists, engineers and doctors from Sweden, Germany and the USA. It has been published in the American journal ACS Nano.

Explore further: Nanoparticles can overcome drug resistance in breast cancer cells

Related Stories

Hot nanoparticles for cancer treatments

March 24, 2014

Nanoparticles have a great deal of potential in medicine: for diagnostics, as a vehicle for active substances or a tool to kill off tumours using heat. ETH Zurich researchers have now developed particles that are relatively ...

New nanoparticle delivers, tracks cancer drugs

October 29, 2013

( —UNSW chemical engineers have synthesised a new iron oxide nanoparticle that delivers cancer drugs to cells while simultaneously monitoring the drug release in real time.

Recommended for you

Nano-decoy lures human influenza A virus to its doom

October 25, 2016

To infect its victims, influenza A heads for the lungs, where it latches onto sialic acid on the surface of cells. So researchers created the perfect decoy: A carefully constructed spherical nanoparticle coated in sialic ...

New method increases energy density in lithium batteries

October 24, 2016

Yuan Yang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a new method to increase the energy density of lithium (Li-ion) batteries. He has built a trilayer structure that ...

Nanofiber coating prevents infections of prosthetic joints

October 24, 2016

In a proof-of-concept study with mice, scientists at The Johns Hopkins University show that a novel coating they made with antibiotic-releasing nanofibers has the potential to better prevent at least some serious bacterial ...


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.