Nanoparticle 'smart bomb' targets drug delivery to cancer cells

Feb 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: Nanoparticles release drugs to reduce tooth decay

Related Stories

Supercomputers help solve puzzle-like bond for biofuels

Mar 16, 2015

One of life's strongest bonds has been discovered by a science team researching biofuels with the help of supercomputers. Their find could boost efforts to develop catalysts for biofuel production from non-food ...

Recommended for you

Nanoparticles release drugs to reduce tooth decay

5 hours ago

Therapeutic agents intended to reduce dental plaque and prevent tooth decay are often removed by saliva and the act of swallowing before they can take effect. But a team of researchers has developed a way ...

Combining magnetism and light to fight cancer

10 hours ago

By combining, in a liposome, magnetic nanoparticles and photosensitizers that are simultaneously and remotely activated by external physical stimuli (a magnetic field and light), scientists at the Laboratoire ...

Scientists convert microbubbles to nanoparticles

Mar 30, 2015

Biomedical researchers led by Dr. Gang Zheng at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have successfully converted microbubble technology already used in diagnostic imaging into nanoparticles that stay trapped in tumours to potentially ...

Designer's toolkit for dynamic DNA nanomachines

Mar 26, 2015

The latest DNA nanodevices created at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM)—including a robot with movable arms, a book that opens and closes, a switchable gear, and an actuator—may be intriguing ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
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.