Silvery nanoparticles

Magnetic nanoparticles deliver chemo drugs to spinal tumours

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Researchers based at the University of Illinois at Chicago using an animal model have delivered chemotherapy drugs to the spinal cord to treat hard-to-reach tumours with magnetic nanoparticles.

Tumours lodged in the delicate spinal cord are especially difficult to treat; surgery and radiotherapy can damage healthy spinal tissue, risking paraplegia, while chemotherapy drugs such as Doxorubicin must penetrate the blood-brain barrier in order to reach the cancer cells and often affect the rest of the body more severely than the spine. The average survival for patients with intramedullary spinal cord tumours – who are often children or young teeangers – is just 15.5 months.

“Getting chemotherapy drugs to spinal tumours has always been a problem,” said Professor Ankit Mehta, director of spinal oncology in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s medical school and co-author of the study. “But we can precisely guide chemotherapy to cancer cells into the spinal cord using magnetic nanoparticles.”

Mehta and his colleagues were able to demonstrate that magnetic nanoparticles could be used to target the chemotherapy drugs more effectively, using a rat model with implanted intramedullary spinal cord tumours from humans.

These magnetic nanoparticles were constructed from tiny magnets bound to the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin, which is used to treat a range of cancers. Next, they implanted a magnet near the spinal vertebrae in the rats, and then injected the drug-carrying nanoparticles near the tumours.

As they had hoped, the subdermal magnets guided the nanoparticles – and the drug – to the sites of the tumours, resulting in the cancer cells being destroyed while the impact on surrounding tissue was limited.

“This proof-of-concept study shows that magnetic nanoparticles are an effective way to deliver chemotherapy to an area of the body that has been difficult to reach with available treatments,” said Mehta. “We will continue to investigate the potential of this therapy and hope to enter human trials if it continues to show promise.”

Among other potential uses, there is considerable excitement surrounding the use of nanoparticles for targeted chemotherapy; this normally involves binding the drugs to the particles and delivering the particles to the affected regions. Meanwhile, nanoparticles with particular optical properties could be used to treat cancer with photothermal therapy, in which brief, intense bursts of light have been shown to destroy tumour and prevent metastasis in animal models.

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