Polish idea for introducing a Trojan horse into the tumour
Nanoparticles developed by Polish researchers are retained in cancer cells but removed from healthy cells. If a glowing or magnetic marker or drug is placed in such a nanometer Trojan horse, we have a way to diagnose or treat cancer.
Researchers from the Institute of Physics PAS in cooperation with scientists from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences have developed nanoparticles from zinc oxide and zirconium oxide. They are expected to be like a Trojan horse delivered to cells. Healthy cells will quickly recognize the deception, cancer cells will not. The Trojan nano-horse will hide compounds that will expose cancer cells or destroy them from the inside.
The nanoparticles have already passed the in vitro and in vivo toxicological tests positively. The first trials at a veterinary clinic have also been carried out. "We examined a rat `patient` of the clinic. The rat was unwell, but it was not clear what was wrong with it. We gave it a slurry with our nanoparticles containing magnetic particles. A day later, we performed a magnetic resonance imaging study and noticed a strong signal from these nanoparticles in the lymph nodes. This allowed to determine that the tumour was located there. The animal was operated on, it regained its vigour and recovered" - explains Prof. Marek Godlewski from the Institute of Physics PAS.
The MRI scan of a rat was performed using the markers from the Institute of Physics PAS. The test showed the presence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Source: Marek Godlewski
There is still a long and expensive way from the study on a single rat to human trials, but these results give hope that the idea of Polish scientists has potential for application.
Prof. Godlewski explains that from the beginning, the research priority was that the nanoparticles - which would penetrate the cells throughout the body - should be completely safe for the patient. Therefore, researchers decided to use zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles. ZnO is a well known and commonly used compound, for example, in the cosmetics industry in powders and UV creams, and in dentistry for temporary fillings. The body can easily handle this compound. Nanoparticles of zirconium oxide (ZrO2) are an alternative, as this is also a biocompatible compound. These nanoparticles remain in the body a bit longer than zinc oxide. These compounds can be used to produce nanometer size "Trojan horses" and attach various additives to them.
The challenge was to create nanoparticles that would be the right size. Too small objects would not be removed from healthy cells, and too large nanoparticles would not penetrate the cells at all.
"Cancer cells multiply and grow rapidly, and thus their cell membranes tend to be less tight than the membranes of healthy cells. In addition, these cells lack certain `purification` mechanisms that remove foreign objects, which is why our particles are able to penetrate cancer cells and remain there" - explains the physicist.
Researchers from the Institute of Physics PAS developed particles, which - according to Prof. Godlewski - are mostly removed from healthy cells about 24 hours after administration. After this time, they remain primarily in cancer cells and in the liver (the body`s purification plant).
Prof. Godlewski explains that nanoparticles developed at the Institute of Physics PAS are like a fruit cake. Instead of dried fruit, you can add different compounds to them. These can be, for example, fluorescent markers that glow when illuminated with laser light. Thanks to this, the surgeon can illuminate the surgical site and see which cells should be cut out to eliminate the tumour.
"We tested several types of cancer, it worked with each of them" - says Prof. Godlewski. He mentions that the solution was tested in vivo, for example on lung and pancreas cancer. "This research was carried out in the laboratories of WULS-SGGW by a group of my son Michał Godlewski, a professor at WULS-SGGW" - adds the scientist.
The "nanoparticle fruit cake" may also contain other markers - for example magnetic compounds or admixtures. This enables cancer diagnosis in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The scientist from the Institute of Physics PAS hopes that the markers developed by his team will be so safe for the patient that - if necessary - they can be used even several times a week. This is important when therapy begins.
Another element that can be added to nano-objects from the Institute of Physics PAS is an anti-cancer drug, such as the drugs used in chemotherapy. Prof. Godlewski explains that the drug begins to be released from nanoparticles only after some time - when the "Trojan horse" remains only in cancer cells. This will allow to carry out chemotherapy selectively - without destroying healthy cells, only targeting mutated cells. "If we limit the area of action of the drug, it will be possible to deliver a larger dose of the drug to the tumour, and it will still be safe for the patient" - says Prof. Godlewski. He explains that this way it will be possible to reach cells scattered in various places of the organism, or located in places where surgical removal of the tumour is not possible (for example in the brain).
The physicist explains that in this research project, his team was responsible for developing biocompatible nanoparticles with appropriate properties and for incorporating marker elements. Scientists from WULS-SGGW were responsible for tests on organisms. The scientist hopes that investors from pharmaceutical companies will be interested in his idea.
PAP - Science in Poland, Ludwika Tomala
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