An interdisciplinary team of scientists from KU Leuven, the University of Bremen, the Leibniz Institute of Materials Engineering, and the University of Ioannina have successfully eradicated cancer in mice using nano-sized copper compounds together with immunotherapy.
Copper oxide nanoparticles
The team discovered that tumors are sensitive to copper oxide nanoparticles. They then found that by creating nanoparticles using iron oxide they were able to target cancer cells without touching healthy ones.
“Any material that you create at a nanoscale has slightly different characteristics than its normal-sized counterpart,” explains Professor Stefaan Soenen and Dr. Bella B. Manshian from the Department of Imaging and Pathology, who worked together on the study. “If we would ingest metal oxides in large quantities, they can be dangerous, but at a nanoscale and at controlled, safe, concentrations, they can actually be beneficial.”
After discovering that the cancer returned when treating only with nanoparticles, the researchers decided to combine them with immunotherapy. “We noticed that the copper compounds not only could kill the tumor cells directly, they also could assist those cells in the immune system that fight foreign substances, like tumors,” says Manshian.
A potential vaccine
This combination made the tumors disappear. Even after the mice were once again injected with tumor cells, the cells were immediately eliminated. This led the researchers to believe that the treatment also works like a vaccine.
“As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that metal oxides are used to efficiently fight cancer cells with long-lasting immune effects in live models,” Soenen said. “As a next step, we want to create other metal nanoparticles, and identify which particles affect which types of cancer. This should result in a comprehensive database.”