Researchers have developed a novel nanoparticle that can effectively treat aggressive breast cancer, according to a study published in Clinical Cancer Research (2010 Jul 15;16(14):3607-17).

For the study, researchers at Northwestern University injected an arsenic nanoparticle, called a nanobin, into mice with triple negative breast tumors. The nanobin consisted of nanoparticulate arsenic trioxide encapsulated in a tiny fat vessel and coated with a second layer of a cloaking chemical designed to prolong the life of the nanobin and prevent scavenger cells from seeing it.

Results of the study revealed that the new technology delivered the drug directly to the tumor, maintained its stability and shielded normal cells from the toxicity. Specifically, nanobins loaded with arsenic reduced tumor growth in mice, while the non-encapsulated arsenic had no effect on tumor growth. The authors explained that the arsenic nanobins blocked tumor growth by causing the cancer cells to die by apoptosis.

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“The anti-tumor effects of the arsenic nanobins against clinically aggressive triple negative breast tumors in mice are extremely encouraging,” said Vince Cryns, associate professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “There’s an urgent need to develop new therapies for poor prognosis triple negative breast cancer.”

Based on their findings, Dr. Cryns and his team are working on decorating the nanobins with antibodies that recognize markers on tumor cells to increase the drug’s uptake by the tumor. In addition, they also want to put two or more drugs into the same nanobin and deliver them together to the tumor.

“Once you fine-tune this, you could use what would otherwise be a lethal or highly toxic dose of the drug, because a good deal of it will be directly released in the tumor,” said Tom O’Halloran, director of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute at Northwestern University, associate director of basic sciences at the Lurie Cancer Center and co-senior author of the paper.