Cancer-fighting particle packs drugs in a glass bubble core

A new nanoparticle design has shown exciting potential against pancreatic cancer.  Depositphotos

At the heart of the team’s new drug delivery system are tiny silica nanoparticles that are fashioned into a glass bubble with a hollow interior. Packed into this space is an already-approved chemotherapy drug called irinotecan, but the system’s cancer-fighting weapons don’t end there. Surrounding this glass core are layers of lipid molecules interwoven with a second drug, an investigational molecule called 3M-052.

Developed to tackle pancreatic cancer, the glass core and overall structure of the system, which measures just one thousandth of the width of a human hair, keeps leakage to a minimum to ensure more of the drugs reach the tumor site. Here, the two drugs perform related and important functions.

Irinotecan halts the growth of cancer cells but also raises the alarm for the immune system, which sees more killer T cells descend on the tumor site to take out the cancer cells. Meanwhile, 3M-052 also helps with the recruiting of T cells at both the tumor site and in nearby lymph nodes.

Diagram depicts a new nanoparticle system for cancer treatment, with the drug irinotecan seen inside the core in green and the drug 3M-052 seen in orange, woven through its fatty outer layers

“In my opinion, invoking the immune system will make a big difference in providing a much better treatment outcome for pancreatic cancer,” said corresponding author André Nel. “That’s where I hope this research is taking us.”

The system was put to the test in mouse models of pancreatic cancer, and was found to shrink tumors and prevent metastasis more effectively than irinotecan deployed on its own. Additionally, the dual-delivery approach proved more effective than either of the drugs delivered on their own via nanocarrier, and recruited more cancer-killing immune cells and maintained drug levels in blood for longer.

We’ve seen quite a few promising nanoparticle delivery systems for cancer treatment over the years, with some taking aim at pancreatic cancer specifically. We’ve also seen silica-based nanoparticles studied with some promising results in everything from obesity treatment to eco-friendly replacements for pesticides. The scientists hope their unique design can find an expedient path to clinical use, and plan to test their dual-delivery system in larger animal models of cancer next.

“It traditionally takes 10 to 20 years for new breakthrough technologies to reach the marketplace,” said Nel. “Nanocarriers have been around for almost 20 years. While lipid-based nanocarriers are leading the way, the silica-based carrier decorated with lipid layers stands a good chance of speeding up the rate of discovery and improving cancer immunotherapy.”

The research was published in the journal ACS Nano.

Source: University of California, Los Angeles

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