Fighting cancer with nanoparticles

Scientists headed by Prof. Vladimir Torchilin recently published an overview of the research results achieved in collaboration with the PHI – Northeastern University Program of Excellence for Quantitative Holographic Imaging at Northeastern University in Boston. The overview “Applications of Label-Free, Quantitative Phase Holographic Imaging Cytometry to the Development of Multi-Specific Nanoscale Pharmaceutical Formulations” was published in the scientific journal Cytometry Part A, covering research results published in five peer reviewed articles and five scientific posters. For more information about the program and its publications, see here.

Encapsulating cancer drugs in nanoparticles

Prof. Torchilin with colleagues are leading experts in encapsulating cancer drugs in nanoparticles. Current chemotherapy has severe side effects because the cancer drugs also affect the normal cells. Prof. Torchilin’s research aim to improve current chemotherapy by developing “smart” nanoparticles that encapsulates cancer drugs which are only activated when the particles reach a tumor, leaving normal non-tumor cells unaffected.

Enzyme activated nanoparticles

In one of the studies, published in the scientific journal Small, the scientists at Northeastern created nanoparticles that encapsulated the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin together with another anti-cancer substance. The particles were designed in such a way that the encapsulated drugs were only activated by an enzyme associated with cancer cells. Using HoloMonitor, the scientists were able to observe and quantify in great detail how the novel nanoparticles suppressed the aggressive behavior of cancer cells.

The commonly used chemotherapy drug paclitaxel is extracted from European yew (swe: idegran).

Ovarian cancer

Together with scientists at University of Chicago, Prof. Torchilin’s group have also created a nanoparticle formulation against chemotherapy resistant ovarian cancer (swe: äggstockscancer). The nanoparticles they created were loaded with the commonly used cancer drug, paclitaxel, together with a drug that breaks down the resistance mechanism of cancer cells. Again using HoloMonitor, the scientists were able to show that paclitaxel-resistant ovarian cancer cells stopped multiplying by cell division when treated with the nanoparticles. These findings were published in scientific journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

“HoloMonitor M4 imaging added a new capability to the evaluation process, specifically to quantitatively determine the effects of the new compounds over time by reliably tracking and analyzing cellular population on a per-cell basis over multiday periods. This functionality was of particular importance because we confirmed that commonly it takes several cellular generations for the compounds to take effect”
— Ed Luther et al. in Cytometry Part A

Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The disease returns in 80 % of cases because the tumor cells develop drug resistance. It has a 5-year survival rate of approximately 40 % and accounts for 6 % of all cancer-related deaths in women in the United States.