Research highlight

Targeting tumours through nanoparticles that scout, broadcast and recruit

Nature Materials

June 20, 2011

A nanoparticle-based system that uses communicative signal amplification — such as found in insect swarming — to target tumours in vivo is reported online this week in Nature Materials. The system operates autonomously and directs the accumulation of over 40-times-higher doses of an anti-cancer drug to tumours in mice, compared with non-communicating controls.

The nanoparticle system, reported by Sangeeta N. Bhatia and colleagues, consists of ‘signalling’ modules that scout for tumours and of ‘receiving’ modules loaded with drugs. Once the signalling nanoparticles locate a tumour, they harness the coagulation cascade — a complex process by which blood forms clots — to broadcast tumour location to the clot-targeting, receiving modules circulating in the blood. These then swarm towards the tumour and deliver the drugs. A single treatment using this communicating system showed prolonged inhibition of the growth of mouse-implanted human carcinoma relative to the modules in isolation.

“Although long-term studies are necessary before considering this system for clinical applications …, it promises enormous potential in the improvement of targeted cancer diagnosis and therapy,” says Younan Xia and colleagues in an accompanying News & Views.

doi: 10.1038/nmat3049

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