New nanoparticle could penetrate the blood-brain barrier to combat cancers

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Researchers at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Miami have made a significant advancement in cancer treatment.

They’ve developed a special nanoparticle that can travel into the brain, targeting both brain and breast cancer tumors.

This could revolutionize how these cancers are treated, offering hope for more effective therapies.

Brain tumors often start in other parts of the body, like the breast, lungs, and colon, and then spread to the brain.

These secondary tumors are hard to treat, partly because the brain is protected by a barrier that stops most medicines from getting in. The new nanoparticle developed by Dr. Shanta Dhar and her team can cross this barrier.

Dr. Dhar, who leads the research, believes that nanoparticles, tiny particles that can deliver drugs right to the cells that need them, are the future of medicine.

This isn’t a new idea; nanoparticles are also used in COVID-19 vaccines. But applying them to cancer treatment is particularly promising.

The team’s nanoparticles are made from a safe, biodegradable material. They carry two specially designed drugs that attack cancer cells by targeting their energy production. Since cancer cells need a lot of energy to grow, cutting off their power supply is an effective way to kill them.

One of the drugs is a modified form of a common chemotherapy drug called cisplatin. Normal cisplatin attacks the DNA in cancer cells, but they can sometimes repair themselves and resist the treatment.

The team changed the drug to attack the DNA in mitochondria instead. Mitochondria are like tiny power plants inside cells but don’t have good repair systems, making this strategy particularly effective.

The other drug targets a protein in mitochondria that’s involved in another type of energy production. By hitting cancer’s energy sources from two angles, the treatment is more likely to be successful.

Dr. Dhar explained that developing these nanoparticles was challenging. The idea started with observing that a small portion of certain nanoparticles could reach the brain. After much experimentation, they refined the particles to create a version that could penetrate both the blood-brain barrier and the mitochondria’s defenses.

The research has shown promising results in lab studies, where the nanoparticle-drug combo successfully shrank breast and brain tumors. It also seemed safe and helped extend the survival of laboratory models.

Looking forward, the team plans to test this treatment with cells from actual patients and against aggressive brain cancer types, like glioblastoma, to see if the results hold up.

Akash Ashokan, a doctoral student in Dr. Dhar’s lab, shared his excitement about the project. He’s been fascinated by how polymer chemistry can be used in medicine, especially for treating cancer.

This research offers a new hope in the fight against difficult-to-treat cancers, combining advanced technology with a deep understanding of how cancer cells survive.

By targeting the disease more precisely, this approach could lead to better outcomes for patients facing these challenging diagnoses.