Scientists in Korea have figured out a way to specifically target malignant cancer cells without harming normal, healthy cells with nanoparticles.
Research in nanoparticle-based medicine has been a major focus throughout the international bio-science community, but never before has anyone developed a multi-functioning nanoparticle that combines diagnosis, treatment and real-time monitoring of cancer progression.
The particle has four key components. The core is a magnetic nanoparticle that acts as a contrast agent for MRI scans. Attached to the surface of this particle is the second component, a peptide that allows the particle to attach itself securely to target cells. The third is a protein dubbed a small interfering RNA or siRNA that is programmed to attack specific genes inside cancer cells. The final component is an organic dye molecule which allows the nanoparticle to emit fluorescent light, making it easy to identify and monitor the diseased area. Once injected into the patient's body the magnetic nanoparticle attaches itself to cancerous cells and begins treatment.
KAIST professor Park Tae-gwan, who led the research with Prof. Cheon Jin-woo at Yonsei University, says the treatment is safe because most of the components are made from non-toxic materials.
So far the research has been limited to tests on cell cultures, but Park says he intends to test the therapy on mice and monkeys and then on humans if successful. Although scores of people are anxious to try out the treatment, scientists predict it will take at least another five to 10 years for the multitalented nanoparticle to reach the market.