Researchers tagged gold nanoparticles with a small dose of radiation to trace the particles as they deliver a drug into the heart of a cancer cell, according to work presented at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute conference.
A team of researchers from the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology worked to deliver drugs to the “control room” of cancer cells, where the chromosomes are kept. The drug targets telomerase, the building blocks of telomeres at the end of chromosomes.
“Gold is precious in more than one way. We have used tiny gold nanoparticles loaded with targeted drugs to kill cancer cells in the laboratory,” lead researcher Kate Vallis said in prepared remarks. “Our long term goal is to design new treatments for cancer patients based on this promising approach.”
Telemeres act as timers to ensure cells do not live longer than programmed. Every time a cell divides, telomeres shorten and when it reaches a critical length, the cell can no longer divide and it dies. Cancer cells manipulate this built-in system by reactivating telomerase, which leads to uncontrolled cell proliferation.
Researchers engineered the gold nanoparticles and added a radioactive tracer to prove that the drug was reaching its target in skin cancer cells and turning off telomerase. Once the cancer cells are made more sensitive to radiation, the radioactive tracer can also be used to deliver a dose of radioactivity.
“Gold has been used in medicine for many years and this research adds further insight into its potential,” Cancer Research UK’s chief exec Sir Harpal Kumar added. “Ensuring that treatment is accurately targeted at cancer and avoids healthy cells is the goal for much of cancer research, and this is an exciting step towards that.”
“Research continues to shed light on how cancer cells behave and how to effectively deliver a lethal payload to the tumor.”National Cancer Research Institute director Dr. Karen Kennedy said. “This exciting research offers that potential and needs further investigation to see how it would be used in patients. The future looks exciting with research such as this improving the way the disease is treated.”