The debilitating side-effects of chemotherapy are largely a result of delivering drugs via the bloodstream. This 'whole-body' approach means chemotherapy kills actively dividing cancer cells, but also damages non-malignant tissue – leading to hair loss, hearing damage and nausea. The ability to directly target tumour cells, while sparing healthy tissue, might reduce side-effects and enable larger doses of drug to be used. Scientists at Imperial College London have been experimenting with non-toxic gold nanoparticles (red), just a few billionths of a metre across, that can be inhaled, and so delivered directly to cancer cells in the lung (nucleus stained blue). These particles are coated with chemotherapy drugs, which are taken up by the cells’ active transport system, or endosomes (green). Additionally, the particles can be heated with infrared radiation, and this helps to kill cancer cells. Initial results from cells in culture are encouraging, and the team now plans pre-clinical trials.
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Written by Jake Jacobson
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