Sneaky nanoparticle slips past cancer’s defences to kill cancer

September 25, 2020

A team of scientists from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed a novel “Trojan horse” approach to killing evasive cancer cells by using a cancer-friendly peptide to cloak another cancer-fighting nanoparticle. The NTU scientists took advantage of cancer cells’ dependency on L-phenylalanine, which is an amino acid, to help their drug-free nanoparticle sneak into and destroy cancer cells.

The nanoparticle, called Nanoscopic-phenylalanine Porous Amino Acid Mimic (Nano-pPAAM), is 30,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and is coated with L-phenylalanine peptides, which are essential to cancers’ growth. In laboratory experiments with mice, the NTU team found the “hidden” nanoparticles soon killed around 80% of breast, skin and gastric cancer cells, similar to what one would expect from standard chemotherapy drugs.

In short, Nano-pPAAM enters the cancer cells through an amino acid transporter cell and, once inside, stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which don’t harm healthy cells, but do cause the cancer cells to self-destruct. Better still, using the nanomaterial as a drug instead of as a drug-carrier allows it to bypass common issues that develop with cancer cells such as drug resistance.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Yu, a breast cancer specialist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore, said that the “Trojan horse” approach could hold much promise for cancer cells that have failed to respond to conventional treatment like chemotherapy. “Such cancers could potentially still be susceptible to Nano-pPAAM since it works by a completely different mechanism – one that the cells will not have adapted to.”


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