Shape-Shifting Nanoparticles for Targeted Delivery of Chemotherapy

A new molecular delivery system created at Univerity of Toronto Engineering could help ensure that chemotherapy drugs get to their target while minimizing collateral damage. Many cancer drugs target fast-growing cells. Injected into a patient, they swirl around in the bloodstream acting on fast-growing cells wherever they find them. That includes tumors, but unfortunately, also hair follicles, your skin, and the lining of your digestive system. University of Toronto Engineering Professor Warren Chan (photo), Ph.D., has spent the last decade trying to figure out how to deliver chemotherapy drugs into tumors -- and nowhere else. Now, his lab has designed a set of nanoparticles attached to strands of DNA that can change shape in order to gain access to diseased tissue. "Your body is basically a series of compartments," says Dr. Chan. "Think of it as a giant house with rooms inside. We're trying to figure out how to get something that's outside, into one specific room. One has to develop a map and a system that can move through the house where each path to the final room may have different restrictions such as height and width." One thing we know about cancer, for instance is that no two tumors are identical. Early-stage breast cancer, for example, may react differently to a given treatment than pancreatic cancer, or even breast cancer at a more advanced stage. Which particles can get inside which tumors depends on multiple factors such as the particle's size, shape, and surface chemistry. Dr. Chan and his research group have studied how these factors dictate the delivery of small molecules and nanotechnologies to tumors, and have now designed a targeted molecular delivery system that uses modular nanoparticles whose shape, size, and chemistry can be altered by the presence of specific DNA sequences.
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