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Halting cancer in its tracks, with nanotechnology

The new research is about epithelial cancers (such as breast cancer or bladder cancer.) These cancers, which are solid and progressive, start in the lining of organs, triggered by a genetic program termed epithelial–mesenchymal transition. This program is controlled by a protein called Twist. When active, Twist can help certain cancers to resist anti-cancer drugs.

Due to the prominent role played by Twist, the protein has become a key target for cancer researchers. A breakthrough has taken place at University College London. Here scientists have deployed nanoparticles to deliver a nucleic acid called small interfering RNA directly into tumor cells. Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule that codes and expresses different genes.

Animal studies have been successful where, in mice, the expression of Twist has been inhibited. This has led to a significant reduction in the size of tumors. With the study the nanoparticles were administered once per week and over a six-week period the success of the treatment was seen.

The types of particles used are mesoporous silica nanoparticles and the RNA is fitted on the outside. The nanoparticles are made up of thousands of tiny pores, which allow sufficient quantities of the RNA to be loaded onto the particle. To protect the RNA, it was coated with a chemical called polyethyleneimine. This chemical also helped the nanoparticles to accumulate together when they reached the site of the tumor.

The conclusion of the study is that “Therapeutic use of TWIST1 siRNA delivered via MSNs has the potential to inhibit tumor growth and progression in many solid tumor types.”

The findings have been published in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine. The paper is called “Mesoporous silica nanoparticle delivery of chemically modified siRNA against TWIST1 leads to reduced tumor burden.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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