Nanoparticles Could Manufacture Cancer-Killing Drugs Inside Your Body

MIT researchers have built a nano-scale, drug-producing factory that could provide precision cancer tumour-killing inside your body. Drugs made of proteins are good at killing cancer tumours, but the human body in turn is good at killing foreign proteins that show up our bloodstream.

So protein drugs have trouble reaching their destination. But the nanoparticle created by the MIT researchers would get around that by not synthesising the protein until it reaches the tumour. They showed in their study, which is published in the journal Nanoletters that they could induce the particle to deploy its payload by shining an ultraviolet light on it.

"This is the first proof of concept that you can actually synthesise new compounds from inert starting materials inside the body," said Avi Schroeder a postdoc in MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and a lead author on the work.

The tiny drug factory mimics the way DNA instructs cells to build proteins. When an ultraviolet light shines on the nanoparticle, it releases a DNA sequence that instructs the creation of the protein. To prove the system works, they programmed the particles to produce green fluorescent protein and luciferase, which can both be detected easily because they glow (like in the image above).

The next step is to get the particle to produce an actual drug, and to make sure the nano-factories hit their tumour targets.

"There are lots of details left to be worked out for this to be a viable therapeutic approach, but it is a really terrific and innovative concept, and it certainly gets one's imagination going," said James Heath, a professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology who wasn't part of the research team.

The other bonus of this approach is that since the drug delivery is so targeted, it wouldn't cause side effects -- like a war with no collateral damage. [ScienceBlog, Nanoletters]

Image: Avi Schroeder