"We've developed a class of particles called core/shell nanogels that we can functionalize with a specific kind of chemistry that allows them to target cancer cells," said L. Andrew Lyon, associate professor at Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
That specific kind of chemistry is folic acid. Cancer cells have more receptors for folic acid and absorb more of the nutrient than healthy cells. In a process akin to hiding a dog's heartworm pill in a glob of peanut butter, researchers covered the surface of the nanogels with folic acid, disguising the particles as an essential nutrient. Once the cancer cells took the particles in, researchers increased the temperature of the cells, causing the particles to clump together and shrink, killing the cell.
Heating the cell is a crucial step in triggering the particles to destroy cells, but it's also a safeguard. Cancer cells have more folic acid receptors than normal cells, but normal cells could still absorb the nanoparticles. By applying a targeted heat source - like ultrasound - only to the tumor, doctors should be able to avoid killing healthy cells that happen to take in the nanoparticles.
"The possibility for using these nanoparticles as vehicles to target and kill only cancer cells is particularly exciting," said Jean Chmielewski, professor of chemistry at Purdue University. "Decorating the exterior of the vehicle with
Contact: David Terraso
Georgia Institute of Technology