Laser Triggered Nanoshells Deliver Drugs Inside Tumors

Researchers have developed a method for delivering cancer-killing drugs inside tumors with gold nanoparticles they can activate remotely using a laser.

The researchers employed gold nanoshells to deliver toxic doses of two drugs — lapatinib and docetaxel — inside breast cancer cells, showing they could use a laser to remotely trigger the particles to release the drugs after they entered the cells.

Though researchers conducted the tests with cell cultures in a lab, they designed the research to demonstrate clinical applicability: The nanoparticles are nontoxic, the drugs are widely used, and the low-power, infrared laser can non-invasively shine through tissue and reach tumors several inches below the skin.

says Naomi Halas, an engineer, chemist, and physicist at Rice University who invented gold nanoshells and has spent more than 15 years researching their anticancer potential.

Trojan-horse Approach

Coauthor Susan Clare, a research associate professor of surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, says the study was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of the Trojan-horse approach. In addition to demonstrating that drugs could be released inside cancer cells, the study also showed that, in macrophages, the drugs did not detach prior to triggering.

says Clare, also a breast cancer surgeon.

If the approach works, Clare says, it could result in fewer side effects and potentially treat many kinds of cancer. For example, one of the drugs in the study, lapatinib, is part of a broad class of chemotherapies called tyrosine kinase inhibitors that target specific proteins linked to different types of cancer.

Other Federal Drug Administration-approved drugs in the class include imatinib (leukemia), gefitinib (breast, lung), erlotinib (lung, pancreatic), sunitinib (stomach, kidney), and sorafenib (liver, thyroid, and kidney).

says lead author Amanda Goodman.


Halas invented nanoshells in the 1990s.

About 20 times smaller than a red blood cell, they are made of a sphere of glass covered by a thin layer of gold. Nanoshells can be tuned to capture energy from specific wavelengths of light, including near-infrared (near-IR), a nonvisible wavelength that passes through most tissues in the body.

Nanospectra Biosciences, a licensee of this technology, has performed several clinical trials over the past decade using nanoshells as photothermal agents that destroy tumors with infrared light.

Clare and Halas’ collaboration on nanoshell-based drug delivery began more than 10 years ago. In earlier work, they showed that a near-IR continuous-wave laser—the same kind that produces heat in the photothermal applications of nanoshells—could be used to trigger the release of drugs from nanoshells.

[caption id="attachment_4154” align="aligncenter” width="680”]sections of a macrophage cell By combining cross sections of a macrophage cell from the x-, y-, and z-axes, researchers could examine how nanoshell-drug complexes (red) distributed inside cells after a 24-hour period of incubation.
A dye was used to distinguish the cell nucleus (blue).
Credit: O. Neumann/Rice[/caption]

In this latest study, Goodman contrasted the use of continuous-wave laser triggering and triggering with a low-power pulse laser.

Using each type of laser, she demonstrated the remotely triggered release of drugs from two types of nanoshell-drug conjugates. One type used a DNA linker and the drug docetaxel, and the other employed a coating of the blood protein albumin to trap and hold lapatinib.

In each case, Goodman found she could trigger the release of the drug after the nanoshells were taken up inside cancer cells. She also found no measurable premature release of drugs in macrophages in either case.

Halas and Clare says they hope to begin animal tests of the technology soon and have an established mouse model that could be used for the testing.

Original Study: Near-infrared remotely triggered drug-release strategies for cancer treatment

Top Image: light-activated nanoshells (gold and light blue) loaded with the anti-cancer drug lapatinib (yellow) by encasing the drug in an envelope of albumin (blue). Light from a near-infrared laser (center) was used to remotely trigger the release of the drug (right) after the nanoshells were taken up by cancer cells. (Credit: A. Goodman/Rice)

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