Scientists Build Army of Metal-Organic Nanoflowers to Treat Cancer

Source: University of Chicago

Summary: Researchers have designed an army of tiny nanoparticles that deliver a  punch, first boosting the effects of radiation at the tumor site and then jumpstarting the immune system to search out any remaining tumors.

Doctors have been using radiation to treat cancer for more than a hundred years, but it’s always been a delicate art to direct treatment while avoiding healthy tissue. To help them, researchers from the University of Chicago have designed an army of tiny flower-shaped metal-and-organic nanoparticles that deliver a one-two punch first boosting the effects of radiation at the tumor site and then jumpstarting the immune system to search out any remaining tumors. Because they can be made out of biodegradable materials, the team saw the potential for a new cancer treatment. The research leads to a candidate molecule currently beginning phase 1 clinical trials. The study findings were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Nanoparticles to treat Cancer

Metal incorporated into the nanoflower structure absorbs radiation better, delivering a high dose to the tumor. Credit: Prof. Wenbin Lin

The research lab has been working with a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for more than 20 years. These spongy materials are so named because they combine metal nodes with organic binders. A hot item in chemistry today, they are under investigation for applications from solar cells to sensors because they’re highly functional and can be built with a number of different components. The idea is to inject the little frameworks into the tumor. Upon X-ray irradiation, they produce very reactive molecules which don’t travel far from the injection site they latch on and stay right where you put them. The frameworks absorb radiation better than tissue, delivering an extra dose of radiation to the tumor. The radiation triggers a shower of reactive oxygen compounds which are toxic to all sorts of parts of the cell: “Proteins, lipids, they chew up any biological molecule.”

Prof. Wenbin Lin said, “We’ve learned so much and made some exciting progress”, “The prospect of developing a technology that could advance immunotherapy is extremely rewarding.”

More Information: Kuangda Lu et al, “Low-dose X-ray radiotherapy–radiodynamic therapy via nanoscale metal-organic frameworks enhances checkpoint blockade immunotherapy”, Nature Biomedical Engineering (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41551-018-0203-4 

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