Boise State researchers have made a breakthrough in cancer treatment that may provide the “magic bullet” for the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.
The interdisciplinary group of researchers applied emerging nanotechnology techniques to traditional cancer research to come up with a highly effective method for the preferential killing of cancer cells while leaving ordinary cells healthy. This nanobiotechnology group is led by Boise State physics professor Alex Punnoose with strong contributions from biology professors Denise Wingett and Kevin Feris.
“One of the greatest challenges preventing advances in new therapeutic options for treating cancer is the inability of anticancer drugs to effectively differentiate between cancerous and normal healthy body cells,” said Wingett, a cancer researcher. “Many commonly used chemotherapeutic drugs target rapidly dividing cells but suffer from a relatively low therapeutic index, which is the ratio of toxic dose to effective dose.”
But the group discovered that zinc-oxide nanoparticles can preferentially kill cancer cells without impacting normal cells, a discovery that could potentially treat the cancer without the side effects caused by chemotherapy.
The group’s discovery is described in the paper “Preferential Killing of Cancer Cells and Activated Human T Cells Using ZnO Nanoparticles,” published in the July edition of the journal Nanotechnology. The paper has garnered significant attention in the scientific community, being downloaded more than 250 times in the first month of its publication, making it one of most popular articles in the 58 journals published by the Institute of Physics, the publisher of the journal Nanotechnology.
The article can be found online at: http://stacks.iop.org/0957-4484/19/295103.
“Until now, no group in the world has been able to produce inherent selective cancer-killing ability in nanoparticles,” Wingett said. “Current chemotherapy drugs typically consist of single molecules and do not provide much room for manipulation of the molecule. But nanoparticles can be modified so that certain characteristics, like cancer-killing attributes, can be accentuated. Because of this, we think there is room for improvement in what we have already demonstrated.”
Wingett said the selectivity of these nanomaterials may be enhanced by linking tumor-targeting proteins such as monoclonal antibodies, peptides, and small molecules to tumor-associated proteins, or by using nanoparticles for drug delivery. In addition to these future directions, the research team is exploring the possibility of altering the nanoparticles to further improve their inherent ability to kill cancer cells while sparing normal healthy body cells.
Cancer researchers across the country have taken notice of the work. Jame Abraham, the hematology/oncology section chief, director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program and medical director at Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University, said that while more study is needed, the breakthrough has great promise.
“Oncology is always looking for a magic bullet, which can kill only the cancer cells, not killing the normal cells. This work is a major step toward that,” Abraham said. “I think this work will pave the way for more targeted therapies.”
The promise of the work has also helped the nanobiotech research group land a $503,000 National Science Foundation grant to acquire a fluorescent activated cell sorter that will give the research group greater ability to identify, analyze and sort nanoparticles.
In addition to enhancing this particular cancer research, the new equipment would support the research activity of at least 16 other Boise State researchers in the sciences, environmental health and engineering, as well as research being done at Northwest Nazarene University, the College of Idaho, the Boise Veterans Administration Medical Center, the Mountain States Tumor and Medical Research Institute and the local biotechnology industry.