Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical Center have shown they can use a nano-particle to deliver anticancer drugs and radioactive particles directly to a metastasized tumor.

The UNC-led pre-clinical study, published in the August issue of the journal Biomaterials, looked at how to attack ovarian cancer directly.

To develop the nano-particle, the team used folate, a water-soluble form of Vitamin B9, because most ovarian cancers over-express the receptor for folate. The nano-particles encapsulated the drug Paclitaxel and yittrium-90 as the therapeutic radioisotope.

“Our study demonstrates the proof-of-principle of engineering ‘smart’ therapeutics that can preferentially deliver chemotherapeutic treatment to cancer,” Dr. Andrew Wang, assistant professor of radiation oncology at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and study senior author, explained.

“Such therapeutics were not possible until the development of nano-particle therapeutic carriers. These tiny devices can be precisely engineered to carry therapeutic cargo and be targeted to cancer cells. We believe our preclinical study will facilitate the clinical development of these targeted nano-particle-based treatments and eventually improve cancer treatment,” Wang said.

Peritoneal metastasis, when the cancer has spread to the lining of the abdomen, is a major cause of side effects and death in ovarian cancer. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy and radiotherapy have shown good clinical results, the team acknowledged, both are limited by their non-targeted nature.

Funding for the study came from a grant from the North Carolina Triad Chapter of Golfers Against Cancer, a pilot grant from the Carolina Center for Nanotechnology Excellence, and the North Carolina University Cancer Research Fund. Wang also supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.

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