Researchers at Florida International University (FIU) have developed a novel approach to treating ovarian cancer that employs nanoparticles in combination with a magnetic field to target cancer cells while leaving nearby healthy cells untouched.
In research published in the journal Scientific Reports (“Magneto-electric Nanoparticles to Enable Field-controlled High-Specificity Drug Delivery to Eradicate Ovarian Cancer Cells”), the FIU team demonstrated how the so-called magneto-electric nanoparticles (MENs) enable the chemotherapy drug, Taxol, to completely eradicate a tumor within 24 hours while leaving the healthy ovarian cells intact.
“Sparing healthy cells has been a major challenge in the treatment of cancer, especially with the use of Taxol; so in addition to treating the cancer, this could have a huge impact on side-effects and toxicity,” said Carolyn Runowicz, M.D., professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at FIU, in a press release.
While the use of various nanoparticles for delivering drugs to specific targets in the body has been with us for a decade now and has already created a billion-dollar industry for itself, this marks the first time that these MENs nanoparticles have been used in this kind of therapy.
The basis of nano-enabled drug delivery has typically involved connecting the nanoparticle to some antibody that is attracted to a tumor and sending the nanoparticle through the bloodstream to find its target. There has been some question about the efficacy and specificity of this antibody approach.
This new technology developed at FIU appears to be more specific because it separates the cancer cells from the healthy cells by exploiting differences in the electrical properties of the two kinds of cells' membranes.
This separation is achieved because of the unique properties of the MENs. Unlike typical magnetic nanoparticles (MN), which can be controlled by a remote magnetic field, the MENs can have their intrinsic electric fields controlled by the external magnetic field. This means that the MENs can operate as localized magnetic-to-electric-field nano-converters. In other words, the MENs can generate the electric signals that govern molecular interactions. By creating a particular electric field, the MENs change the membrane properties of the cancer cells and not the healthy cells making them more porous.
As the Scientific Reports articles describes it: “The interaction between the MENs and the electric system of the membrane effectively serves as a field-controlled gate to let the drug-loaded nanoparticles enter specifically the tumor cells only.”
“This is an important beginning for us. I’m very excited because I believe that it can be applied to other cancers including breast cancer and lung cancer,” said Sakhrat Khizroev, professor of electrical and computer engineering at FIU in the press release.
Illustration: Florida International University
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.