Abu Dhabi: In a breakthrough in cancer therapeutics, a team of researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has made a significant advance in light-based therapies.
The researchers at the Magzoub Biophysics Lab at NYUAD have developed novel tiny particles that can be used with light to target and treat tumours which will make light-based cancer diagnosis and treatment much better than before. These nano particles are like minature tumour-hunting balls with light to find and fight cancer with more potency.
“The biocompatible and biodegradable tumour-targeting nanospheres combine tumour detection and monitoring with potent, light-triggered cancer therapy to dramatically increase the efficacy of existing light-based approaches,” the university announced on Thursday.
Why is it a big deal?
The non-invasive, light-based therapies include photodynamic therapy (PDT) and photothermal therapy (PTT). They have the potential to be safe and effective alternatives to conventional cancer treatments.
Usually, cancer treatments involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, which can cause problems like side effects and post-treatment complications.
But using light to treat cancer, through PDT and PTT, could be a safer and more effective option. The challenge was making it work well.
Until now, scientists struggled because the particles they used were not good at dissolving, staying stable, or finding tumuors, according to the researchers.
“To date, the development of effective light-based technologies for cancer has been hindered by poor solubility, low stability, and lack of tumor specificity, among other challenges,” they pointed out.
Nano-carriers designed so far to deliver PDT and PTT more effectively have also proven to have significant limitations. So, this breakthrough in making nano-carriers using better particles is a big achievement.
How light-based therapy works
In fact, PDT and PTT utilise different approaches for attacking tumours. PDT uses laser irradiation to activate a photosensitiser to generate Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). It is a highly reactive chemical that is toxic to cancer cells.
In PTT, a molecule called a photothermal agent converts absorbed light into heat, with the resulting hyperthermia [abnormally high body temperature] leading to the partial or complete destruction of tumour tissue.
Research paper published
The NYUAD researchers have published their research in the journal ACS Nano, a monthly, peer-reviewed, scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The paper was titled pH-Responsive Upconversion Mesoporous Silica Nanospheres for Combined Multimodal Diagnostic Imaging and Targeted Photodynamic and Photothermal Cancer Therapy.
In the paper, the research team presented the development of acidity-triggered rational membrane (ATRAM) peptide-functionalised, lipid/PEG-coated upconversion mesoporous silica nanospheres (ALUMSNs).
These are multi-functional, tumour-targeting nanospheres that protect encapsulated photosensitisers and photothermal agents from degradation. They also deliver these molecules directly to cancer cells. The ALUMSNs enable tumour detection and monitoring through thermal and fluorescence imaging, as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The ALUMSNs also facilitate near-infrared (NIR) laser light-induced PDT and PTT. A combination of these improves the efficacy of both phototherapies to shrink tumours with no detectable systemic toxicity. That means it does not cause toxins that affect the body.
Factors that matter
“Because ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) is a highly reactive molecule with a very short lifetime and a limited radius of action, it is imperative that a sufficient amount of the photosensitiser molecule is present in the tumour tissue for PDT to be effective,” explained Loganathan Palanikumar, NYUAD research scientist and a senior researcher in the Magzoub Lab.
“In addition, the localised hyperthermia required for PTT is dependent on the significant accumulation of photothermal agents within tumours,” he said.
New therapeutic approaches
The ability of the nanocarriers developed by the NYUAD team to increase the efficiency at which photosensitisers and photothermal agents are delivered to the tumour is a critical advance, according to the researchers.
“New therapeutic approaches are desperately needed to enhance the existing arsenal of cancer-fighting treatments,” said Mazin Magzoub, NYUAD associate professor of biology, whose lab focuses on developing novel therapeutics and drug delivery systems.
“The multifunctional core-shell nanospheres our team has developed help to overcome issues that have limited the efficacy of key light-based therapies, offering a promising tumor-targeting nanoplatform that facilitates multimodal diagnostic imaging and potent combinatorial cancer therapy. This work opens up an exciting path forward for the advancement of light-based cancer treatments,” said Magzoub.