Chinese scientists use nanoplatform ‘aircraft carrier’ to release drugs and attack tumours in cancer patients

Chinese scientists have designed a drug delivery platform that fights cancer like a microscopic aircraft carrier by finding tumour cells and releasing medicine to attack them.

It is an advanced and intelligent therapy for tumours with the potential for clinical applications because it can inhibit tumour growth, promote the body’s immune response and prevent cancer cell metastasis – the spread of cancer cells to another part of the body – at the same time, according to the researchers.

There were an estimated 19.3 million new cases worldwide in 2020, with female breast cancer the most common cancer diagnosed, according to International Agency for Research on Cancer statistics.

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Conventional treatments cannot completely eradicate cancer cells and they may damage normal tissue. A main reason for the failure of cancer treatment is the extensive metastasis of the disease through the patient’s blood and lymphatic vessels.

Researchers from China say they have a solution that combines multiple new strategies and simultaneously inhibits growth of the primary tumour and tumour metastasis. Their work was published on May 31 in Small, a peer-reviewed journal that covers science at the nano and microscale.

The research is led by Shi Xiangyang and Cao Xueyan of the Shanghai Engineering Research Centre of Nano-Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine at Donghua University in Shanghai. They have been focusing on using nano-biotechnology to diagnose and treat cancer for more than a decade.

The team built its “aircraft carrier” based on a polymer that resembles a tree’s branches and has a controllable shape and size and good biocompatibility. Using the polymer as a deck, the Donghua University researchers mounted other particles as “weapons” onto the carrier.

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Shi and his team modified the surface of the polymer with targeting agent LyP-1 peptide, which can specifically recognise and bind to a protein that is abnormally overexpressed on various types of tumour cells, especially breast cancers. They said as a result, the nanoplatform could navigate and find its bomb target.

Then nanoparticles – including copper sulphide (CuS) and DMXAA, a drug that cuts tumour vascular cells – are incorporated in the cabin of the polymer as a weapon.

Each particle constitutes a different treatment method.

When exposed to near-infrared light, CuS nanoparticles generate heat that can destroy cancer cells through a process called photothermal therapy. The DMXAA induces the programmed death of tumour vascular cells, leading to necrosis of the tumour tissue.

One of the major strengths of the team’s work is the synergy between the different weapons aboard the “aircraft carrier”.

While CuS and DMXAA kill tumour cells in their own way, jointly they trigger the body’s immune system to fight the cancer by inducing immunogenic cell death and regulating immune responses.

While LyP-1 peptide serves as navigator of the platform, it could also induce the destruction of tumour lymphatic vessels. With DMXAA, it inhibits metastasis.

“These platforms have uniform size, good stability, high photothermal conversion efficiency, and satisfactory drug release performance. Cell experiments showed that these platforms have excellent in vitro targeting ability, photothermal ablation ability and immune activation ability,” Shi wrote in the paper.

“The nanoplatform has been tested in vitro and shows promising results for breast cancer treatment. We hope that this technology can be further developed for clinical use in the future.”

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