Australian scientists have developed a new nanoparticle which can deliver cancer drugs to specific cells and then stick around to monitor their effect in real time.
By understanding how the cancer drug is released and its effect on the cells and surrounding tissue, doctors can adjust doses to achieve the best result.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) chemical engineers synthesised the iron oxide nanoparticle that delivers cancer drugs to cells while simultaneously monitoring the drug release.
"Iron oxide nanoparticles that can track drug delivery will provide the possibility to adapt treatments for individual patients," said associate professor Cyrille Boyer from the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering.
Boyer and his team demonstrated for the first time the use of a technique called fluorescence lifetime imaging to monitor the drug release inside a line of lung cancer cells.
"Usually, the drug release is determined using model experiments on the lab bench, but not in the cells," said Boyer.
"This is significant as it allows us to determine the kinetic movement of drug release in a true biological environment," Boyer said.
Magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles have been studied widely because of their applications as contrast agents in magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.
Several recent studies have explored the possibility of equipping these contrast agents with drugs.
However, there are limited studies describing how to load chemotherapy drugs onto the surface of magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, and no studies that have effectively proven that these drugs can be delivered inside the cell.
With this latest study, researchers engineered a new way of loading the drugs onto the nanoparticle's polymer surface, and demonstrated for the first time that the particles are delivering their drug inside the cells.
"This is very important because it shows that bench chemistry is working inside the cells," said Boyer.
The result, published in the journal ACS Nano, represents an important development for the emerging field of theranostics - that refers to nanoparticles that can treat and diagnose disease.