health

Magnetic nanoparticles may help treat cancer

Study being carried out at New York University Abu Dhabi looks to delivering drugs to cancer cells directly

16:31 April 13, 2018

Abu Dhabi: Scientists at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) are leading an innovative research project that could have several positive implications on how cancer is treated in the future, as they combine existing treatments with new methods involving magnetic nanoparticles.

By using magnetic nanoparticles, doctors will be able to directly deliver the treatment drugs straight to the cancer cells, with the nanoparticles acting as a transport mechanism for the drugs. Current treatment methods don’t have a way for sending the drugs straight to the cancer cells, which is why cancer patients often suffer from several side effects during chemotherapy, as the drugs also affect the healthy cells and not just the cancer cells.

“The goal of this research is to come up with a way that allows us to deliver the drugs to specific sites in the body without harming the healthy cells. We want to guide the drugs to the cancer cells and away from the healthy cells, and in order to do this we have to combine the commercially available drugs that we have with a new smarter way of fighting against the cancer cells,” said Ali Trabolsi, NYUAD assistant professor of chemistry, one of the scientists involved in the research project.

“At the moment, the drugs we use don’t differentiate between cancer and healthy cells. These drugs also have to be injected in high doses to make sure they reach the tumour and kill the cancer cells. As a result of this, there are a large number of side effects such as hair loss, heart damage and liver dysfunction,” he added.

“If we want to avoid these side effects, we must be able to design and build smart drug delivery systems,” he said.

This is where magnetic nanoparticles come in, explained Trabolsi, who says that the nanoparticles through bioengineering can be mixed with the drugs, and then injected into the patient, after which the nanoparticles can be magnetically guided to the cancer cells.

“Having magnetic nanoparticles means you can guide them to the sites you want because of their magnetic characteristics. These nanoparticles are also bio-compatible: they are small which means they can freely circulate in the body.

“We are using the same type of drugs but it’s just a new type of method in getting those drugs to the cancer cells. When the tumour is formed, to increase the concentration for the nanoparticles, a magnet has to be placed near the tumour, and then the magnetic nanoparticles can be guided to the site,” he added.

Trabolsi said the new treatment method was still several years away from being introduced with more laboratory testing required. The tests carried out, according to Trabolsi, have been positive so far.

“We have done a lot of testing on cells using worms; the next step is to test this system on mice and to see how they respond to it. The testing has been applied to healthy cells, we haven’t used cancer cells so far, but the results have shown that the healthy cells were not affected by the nanoparticles, which proves that the method we want to use can work and that the healthy cells can remain unaffected.”