Nanotechnology, biomolecules and light unite to 'cook' cancer cells

Jun 16, 2008

Researchers are testing a new way to kill cancer cells selectively by attaching cancer-seeking antibodies to tiny carbon tubes that heat up when exposed to near-infrared light.

Biomedical scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center and nanotechnology experts from UT Dallas describe their experiments in a study available online and in an upcoming print issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists are able to use biological molecules called monoclonal antibodies that bind to cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can work alone or can be attached to powerful anti-cancer drugs, radionuclides or toxins to deliver a deadly payload to cancer cells.

In this study, the researchers used monoclonal antibodies that targeted specific sites on lymphoma cells to coat tiny structures called carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are very small cylinders of graphite carbon that heat up when exposed to near-infrared light. This type of light, invisible to the human eye, is used in TV remote controls to switch channels and is detected by night-vision goggles.
Near-infrared light can penetrate human tissue up to about 1½ inches.

In cultures of cancerous lymphoma cells, the antibody-coated nanotubes attached to the cells' surfaces. When the targeted cells were then exposed to near-infrared light, the nanotubes heated up, generating enough heat to essentially "cook" the cells and kill them. Nanotubes coated with an unrelated antibody neither bound to nor killed the tumor cells.

"Using near-infrared light for the induction of hyperthermia is particularly attractive because living tissues do not strongly absorb radiation in this range," said Dr. Ellen Vitetta, director of the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. "Once the carbon nanotubes have bound to the tumor cells, an external source of near-infrared light can be used to safely penetrate normal tissues and kill the tumor cells.

"Demonstrating this specific killing was the objective of this study. We have worked with targeted therapies for many years, and even when this degree of specificity can be demonstrated in a laboratory dish, there are many hurdles to translating these new therapies into clinical studies. We're just beginning to test this in mice, and although there is no guarantee it will work, we are optimistic."

The use of carbon nanotubes to destroy cancer cells with heat is being explored by several research groups, but the new study is the first to show that both the antibody and the carbon nanotubes retained their physical properties and their functional abilities – binding to and killing only the targeted cells. This was true even when the antibody-nanotube complex was placed in a setting designed to mimic conditions inside the human body.

Biomedical applications of nanoparticles are increasingly attracting the attention of basic and clinical scientists. There are, however, challenges to successfully developing nanomedical reagents. One is the potential that a new nanomaterial may damage healthy cells and organisms. This requires that the effects of nanomedical reagents on cells and organisms be thoroughly studied to determine whether the reagents are inherently toxic.

"There are rational approaches to detecting and minimizing the potential for nonspecific toxicity of the nanoparticles developed in our studies," said Dr. Rockford Draper, leader of the team from UT Dallas and a professor of molecular and cell biology.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Explore further: Gold nanoparticles help target, quantify breast cancer gene segments in a living cell

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Making 'bucky-balls' in spin-out's sights

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —A new Oxford spin-out firm is targeting the difficult challenge of manufacturing fullerenes, known as 'bucky-balls' because of their spherical shape, a type of carbon nanomaterial which, like ...

'Nanobionics' aims to give plants super powers

Apr 02, 2014

Plants are an engineering marvel of nature. Fueled by sunlight, they recycle our carbon dioxide waste into fresh oxygen for us to breathe. Plus, they make the world prettier. But, with a little help from us humans, can they ...

Recommended for you

Cloaked DNA nanodevices survive pilot mission

Apr 22, 2014

It's a familiar trope in science fiction: In enemy territory, activate your cloaking device. And real-world viruses use similar tactics to make themselves invisible to the immune system. Now scientists at ...

Innovative strategy to facilitate organ repair

Apr 18, 2014

A significant breakthrough could revolutionize surgical practice and regenerative medicine. A team led by Ludwik Leibler from the Laboratoire Matière Molle et Chimie (CNRS/ESPCI Paris Tech) and Didier Letourneur ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Research proves nanobubbles are superstable

The intense research interest in surface nanobubbles arises from their potential applications in microfluidics and the scientific challenge for controlling their fundamental physical properties. One of the ...

Autism Genome Project delivers genetic discovery

A new study from investigators with the Autism Genome Project, the world's largest research project on identifying genes associated with risk for autism, has found that the comprehensive use of copy number variant (CNV) genetic ...

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...