A collaborative team from Imperial College London and the Laboratoire de chimie de la matière condensée de Paris have designed and developed breakthrough hybrid gold-silica nanoparticles, which could vastly improve the accuracy of cancer imaging.
The novel nanoparticles make it possible to combine two types of tumour treatment as up to three different imaging techniques. In addition, they also have a much stronger ability to carry drugs, delivering a higher capacity to the patient.
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, the findings showed the team were able to combine three imaging techniques (MRI, near-infrared fluorescence and photoacoustic ultrasound imaging) with two forms of therapy (chemotherapy and photothermal therapy).
The international researchers managed to achieve all this within a sphere measuring 150 nanometres in diameter.
This was achieved by synthesising hybrid objects consisting of a mesoporous silica shell containing small nanoparticles called gold quantum dots. These dots possess unique properties (fluorescence, heat production, magnetism) but their instability means they often bind together and lose any medical usability.
However, the team managed to infuse the shells with gold precursors, allowing them to create gold quantum dots in the pores of the shell and stabilise them.
With its added stability, the new structure can target the centre of cancer cells without increasing toxicity. This approach also safeguards the optical and magnetic properties of gold quantum dots, while maximising their drug storage capacity.
The team believe this could boost the proportion of drugs that are able to reach cancer cells from five per cent to 95 per cent, compared to current methods. As well as carrying far more effective treatment, the nanoparticles also have potential for photothermic therapy.
When they are stimulated by an infrared laser, the particles containing the gold quantum dots give off infrared fluorescence and heat of up to 51°C, which could kill cancerous cells. In lab tests, this was able to reduce tumours by more than half (55 per cent).
Written by Angela Newbury
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