Scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia have developed a nanoparticle that could dramatically improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment for neuroblastoma in children.
Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumour in children, affecting just under 100 children a year in Britain. It is a cancer of specialised nerve cells, called neural crest cells. These cells are involved in the development of the nervous system and other tissues. Most children who get this cancer are under five years old.
The treatment of neuroblastoma often necessitates high doses of chemotherapy drugs but this can lead to on-going health problems and any development that could lead to a reduction in the dose would be valuable.
The research carried out at UNSW, which was published in the journal Chemical Communications, developed a non-toxic nanoparticle that can deliver and release nitric oxide (NO) to specific cancer cells in the body.
Dr Cyrille Boyer from the School of Chemical Engineering at UNSW who co-authored the report said:
"When we injected the chemo drug into the neuroblastoma cells that had been pre-treated with our new nitric oxide nanoparticle we needed only one-fifth the dose. By increasing the effectiveness of these chemotherapy drugs by a factor of five, we could significantly decrease the detrimental side-effects to healthy cells and surrounding tissue."
It was already known that there are benefits in combining chemotherapy drugs with NO but the compounds used to deliver the NO were potentially toxic and had very poor stability, or shelf life. In contrast, the UNSW-developed nanoparticle developed by the UNSW team is non-toxic and has a shelf life of more than two weeks.
Nitric Oxide is an important molecule that is involved in many physical and mental processes. Deficiencies in NO have been associated with increased susceptibility to many diseases including cancer, liver fibrosis, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Whilst biologists have experimented with mixing NO with cancer cells and observing the reactions this is the first time that a mechanism to enable NO to be delivered precisely to where it is needed has been developed.
The next step is to test the nanoparticle on other types of cancer cells such as lung and colon cancer.