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Nanoparticle Both Kills Cancer Cells and Helps Image the Killing Process

“Theranostic” nanoparticle is first to allow the fluorescent imaging of a drug inside a cancer cell

2 min read
Nanoparticle Both Kills Cancer Cells and Helps Image the Killing Process
Although real cancer killing nanoparticles look nothing like the fanciful robots pictured here, they're rapidly accumulating new capabilities.
Illustration: Guillermo Lobo/iStockphoto

The therapeutic capabilities of metallic nanoparticles continue to improve, especially for cancer treatment. Along with their growing therapeutic abilities, they are also piling up diagnostic capabilities as well, like their recent use in enabling iPod drug testing.

Now, thanks to researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia, metallic nanoparticles have been used to both treat cancer and observe the treatment. This latest development is part of the emerging field of so-called “theranostic” nanoparticles in which the nanoparticle is both a therapeutic and a diagnostic tool.

In a first, the Australian researchers, who published their work in the journal ACS Nano ("Using Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy to Monitor Theranostic Nanoparticle Uptake and Intracellular Doxorubicin Release"), used a fluorescence imaging technique to see the release of a drug inside lung cancer cells.

“Usually, the drug release is determined using model experiments on the lab bench, but not in the cells,” said Professor Cyrille Boyer from the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering in a press release. “This is significant as it allows us to determine the kinetic movement of drug release in a true biological environment.”

The researchers were able to deliver the drug and watch it enter the cancer cells by using iron oxide nanoparticles that each had a polymer outer shell. The polymer shells were built so that they could attach to the drug doxorubicin (DOX) and then release the DOX in an acidic environment—inside the cancer cell. The iron oxide nanoparticles within the shell exploited the inherent fluorescence of the DOX by acting as contrast agents to make the fluorescence stand out.

Boyer expects that the iron oxide nanoparticles that they have developed will make it possible to adapt drug treatments to individual patients. “This is very important because it shows that bench chemistry is working inside the cells,” says Boyer. “The next step in the research is to move to in-vivo applications.”

The Conversation (0)
Illustration showing an astronaut performing mechanical repairs to a satellite uses two extra mechanical arms that project from a backpack.

Extra limbs, controlled by wearable electrode patches that read and interpret neural signals from the user, could have innumerable uses, such as assisting on spacewalk missions to repair satellites.

Chris Philpot

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spiderman’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.

Such scenarios may seem like science fiction, but recent progress in robotics and neuroscience makes extra robotic limbs conceivable with today’s technology. Our research groups at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg, in Germany, together with partners in the European project NIMA, are now working to figure out whether such augmentation can be realized in practice to extend human abilities. The main questions we’re tackling involve both neuroscience and neurotechnology: Is the human brain capable of controlling additional body parts as effectively as it controls biological parts? And if so, what neural signals can be used for this control?

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