Treating patients with malignant brain tumors is particularly challenging. While it may be possible to have tumors surgically removed, it is a complex procedure and it is often not possible to remove all of the tumor without damaging the surrounding brain tissue. Parts of the tumor therefore have to be left in place and they can regrow. Chemotherapy is problematic as the toxic chemicals used in the treatment can cause damage to other parts of the body and getting the drugs to the tumor where they are needed is difficult due to the blood-brain barrier, which prevents most substances from reaching brain tissue.
Hope could possibly be just on the horizon, as an international team of researchers from Yale School of Medicine and Beijing Normal University have developed an innovative new method of targeting brain tumors using nanoparticles.
Nanoparticles offer hope as they are so tiny and can be engineered to pass through the blood-brain barrier and reach the tumor where they can deliver drugs directly to the brain tumor. While researchers have previously experimented with nanoparticles, they have not been found to be particularly efficient at traveling to the part of the brain where they are needed. The nanoparticles used by researchers in previous studies have also been particularly complex. The nanoparticles developed by the Yale/Beijing researchers are constructed from a single compound and are smaller than wavelengths of visible light. They have a simple structure and have been shown to pass through the blood-brain barrier and reach tumors.
The nanoparticles have been created to resemble amino acids, which can pass through the blood-brain barrier. They have been engineered to recognize a specific molecule called LAT1, which is present in tumors and the blood-brain barrier but is not present in most other areas of the body. That means that the tumors can be targeted while reducing the potential for off target effects. The nanoparticles were used to mark the tumors using fluorescence and successfully delivered chemotherapy drugs in mice.
The breakthrough made by the researchers is significant, but it is likely to be several years before any clinical uses could be considered.
You can read more about the research in the paper – Targeted tumour theranostics in mice via carbon quantum dots structurally mimicking large amino acids – which was recently published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. DOI: 10.1038/s41551-020-0540-y