Research Highlights

Nano cancer killers

Published online 24 April 2018

Scientists develop a creative drug delivery system for use in targeted cancer therapy.

Biplab Das

Scientists have created nanoprobes that are able to target and selectively destroy cancer cells, sparing normal cells, according to a new study in ACS Nano

The nano drug carriers “act like a Trojan horse in order to bring anticancer drugs into the cells – a significant leap towards the development of less toxic cancer therapies,” says lead investigator Antonios G. Kanaras of the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.   

The researchers, who include Afaf H. El-Sagheer from the Suez University, Egypt, created the nanoprobes by attaching short DNA molecules to gold nanoparticles. The nanoprobes were designed to detect two marker proteins––keratin 8, found in epithelia cells, and vimentin, found in mesenchymal cells. 

Epithelial cells form the protective layer lining the throat, blood vessels and intestines. Mesenchymal cells are a type of adult stem cells found in bone marrow and which grow into bone and cartilage tissue.

However, the transformation of epithelial cells into mesenchymal cells is potentially harmful since such transition could breed vicious tumours that can invade multiple organs. Now, the new nanoprobes are able to detect signatures of keratin 8 in epithelial cells and vimentin in mesenchymal cells, giving off a green glow in case of keratin 8 and a red glow in case of vimentin.

During trials, the nanoprobes effectively ferried two anticancer drugs – doxorubicin and mitoxantrone.

These experiments show that the nanoprobes could potentially stop the birth of a tumour.

In the next phase of research, Kanaras and colleagues plan to make gold-free drug carriers, which are more biocompatible.


  1. Kyriazi, M. et al. Multiplexed mRNA sensing and combinatorial-targeted drug delivery using DNA-gold nanoparticle dimers. ACS Nano. (2018)