Scientists Use Nanoparticles to Send Cancer Fighting Agent to Cells

Scientists have developed a platform using nanoparticles to send a cancer-fighting agent to cells.
Donna Fuscaldo
Cancer cells vitanovski/iStock

When it comes to finding new treatments for cancer scientitists have been focusing on an anti-cancer agent known as Small interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA). But getting this agent to cancer cells has been a challenge. 

Scientists at the University of Cambridge think they have the solution. Led by Dr. David Fairen-Jimenez, from the Cambridge Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, they have created a platform that uses nanoparticles to get the anti-cancer agent to the cells. Their work was published in journal Chem


MOFs can be a viable way to fight cancer 

The nanoparticles, known as metal-organic frameworks or MOFs could be a viable way of delivering the agent. To come up with the platform the team of scientists used simulations to pinpoint a MOF that has the ideal size to carry the siRNA agent. Once it's inside the cell it breaks down releasing the agent. 

The platform overcomes some of the problems associated with using siRNA's to treat cancer. The molecules tend to be unstable and break down the defenses naturally found in cells. It's also difficult to get the agent to the cells that need to be treated. But with the special nanoparticle, the scientists were able to get around that.

"With traditional cancer therapy if you're designing new drugs to treat the system, these can have different behaviours, geometries, sizes, and so you'd need a MOF that is optimal for each of these individual drugs," said Fairen-Jimenez in a press release announcing the research. "But for siRNA, once you develop one MOF that is useful, you can in principle use this for a range of different siRNA sequences, treating different diseases."

MOFs successfully navigates cells natural defense mechanisms 

Another challenge Fairen-Jimenez and his team were able to overcome is the agent being stopped on its path to the cancer cells. Known in the medical community as endosomal entrapment, it occurs when the cell stops an agent from reaching it in a form of a defense mechanism.

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The team added more components to the MOF to make sure the agent reached the target cell. The scientists were able to prevent the endosomal entrapment 27% of the time, which they said shows promise. 

The scientists believe the system is versatile enough that they can adapt the MOF to send siRNA sequences to other types of genes and could even deliver multiple drugs at the same time, enabling combination therapy to kill cancer cells. 

"One of the questions we get asked a lot is 'why do you want to use a metal-organic framework for healthcare?,' because there are metals involved that might sound harmful to the body," said Fairen-Jimenez. "But we focus on difficult diseases such as hard-to-treat cancers for which there has been no improvement in treatment in the last 20 years. We need to have something that can offer a solution; just extra years of life will be very welcome."

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