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‘Nano’ anticancer drug delivery

Published online 23 May 2016

Scientists develop a nanocarrier system that can potentially diagnose and target cancer.

Islam Elkholi

A new multifunctional nanocarrier system can be used for both imaging and anticancer drugs delivery, says a new study.

For years, chemotherapy has been a mainstay treatment option for inoperable cancers. However, the lack of an efficient delivery approach for agents such as doxorubicin and gemcitabine means that chemotherapy is unselective for tumour cells, leading to serious side effects arising from the destruction of healthy cells.

Now, scientists from Saudi Arabia and the USA are proposing a nanocarrier system composed of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) conjugated to gold nanoclusters. 

This system not only shows high loading capacity for doxorubicin and gemcitabine together, but also offers a leakage percentage of less than 3% of the cargo after 15 days in blood serum. 

Despite this strong trapping power, the MSNs dissociate easily from the gold nanoclusters inside the cancerous tissues' acidic environment, establishing this system as a promising controlled-release delivery approach. 

When tested on lung, cervical and pancreatic human cancer cell lines, the MSN-based system showed high killing power with a nuclear targeting feature. Most importantly, this system showed preferential accumulation in the tumour site with minimal accumulation in the liver and kidneys.

“The real novelty of the system lies in employing electrostatic interactions to ‘gate’ the silica pores and simultaneously absorb more cargo on the surface," says principle investigator, Niveen Khashab, from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia.

"This theranostic approach is promising for developing efficient multifunctional biomedical systems for future translational applications," adds Khashab.


Croissant, J. G. et al. Protein-gold clusters-capped mesoporous silica nanoparticles for high drug loading, autonomous gemcitabine/doxorubicin co-delivery, and in-vivo tumor imaging. J. Control. Release (2016).