Gold nanoparticles bring scientists closer to a cancer treatment

Smart nanomaterials can disrupt blood supply to tumours

A schematic illustration of different types of gold nanoparticles used in the experiments. NR is gold nanorods, HG is hollow gold nanoparticles, SP is spherical gold nanoparticles and CS is core-shell silica-gold nanoparticles

Scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK have developed smart nanomaterials, which can disrupt the blood supply to cancerous tumours.

A team of researchers, led by physics lecturer Dr Antonios Kanaras, showed that a small dose of gold nanoparticles could activate or inhibit genes that are involved in angiogenesis – a complex process responsible for the supply of oxygen and nutrients to most types of cancer.

‘The peptide-functionalised gold nanoparticles that we synthesised are very effective in the deliberate activation or inhibition of angiogenic genes,’ said Dr Kanaras.

The team went a step further to control the degree of damage to the endothelial cells using laser illumination. Endothelial cells construct the interior of blood vessels and play a pivotal role in angiogenesis.

The researchers also found that the gold particles could be used in cellular nanosurgery.

‘We have found that gold nanoparticles can have a dual role in cellular manipulation. Applying laser irradiation, we can use the nanoparticles either to destroy endothelial cells, as a measure to cut the blood supply to tumours, or to deliberately open up the cellular membrane in order to deliver a drug efficiently,’ added Dr Kanaras.

The researchers are almost midway through their research and have published two related papers (NanoLett. 2011, 11 (3), 1358–1363; Small 2011, 7, No. 3, 388–394), with another submitted for publication and four more planned throughout 2011. Their aim is to develop a complete nanotechnology toolkit to manipulate angiogenesis. To make this a reality within five to ten years they are continuing to seek funding.