A consortium of Mexican researchers developed a breast cancer diagnostic method based on luminescent nanoparticles, with more accurate results than traditional methods of detection, such as mammography and computed tomography.
The group is made up of specialists from the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE) and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (CNyN) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), headed by Dr. Patricia Juárez Camacho, researcher at the Department of Biomedical Innovation of CICESE.
Juárez Camacho explains that the project started with the interest of using nanotechnology as a tool to be able to direct molecules specifically to cancer cells without affecting the normal ones. The aim was to obtain biomarkers that allow the visualization of tumors and the release of antitumor molecules that inhibit tumor growth.
“We knew that in order to achieve this new project we required the expertise of our CNyN collaborators, so we started working in Dr. Gustavo Hirata’s laboratory for the development and physicochemical characterization of the luminescent nanoparticles,” she said.
The CICESE performed the biological characterization first in in vitro tests using cancer cells to demonstrate that the nanoparticles were able to internalize, and to assess their toxicity and specificity.
Tumor cell xenografts were performed using a murine model and the distribution of the luminescent nanoparticles in the tissues was evaluated. Additionally pharmacokinetics studies were conducted to know the nanoparticles elimination and toxicity in the organism, besides of identifying their capacity to recognize the tumor specifically, first alone and then in combination with computed tomography, Juárez Camacho said.
“The nanoparticles are designed to bind to certain receptors that are abundant in tumor cells. After its administration it would be expected that once they are in the bloodstream they will reach the tumor and join the cancer cells. Given that the nanoparticles are luminescent, the visualization of the tumor would be more precise and can be detected using a fluorescence microscope or x-rays,” explained the specialist in biomedical sciences.
One of the current problems with the use of tumor biomarkers is their rapid elimination, limiting the time to carry out the studies. “In our model we demonstrated that the designed nanoparticles can be in circulation without losing their luminescence for up to eight hours, which is definitely a great advantage,” says Dr. Juárez Camacho.
Most of the tomography techniques: computerized, positron emission and computerized by single photon emission, have limitations to detect cancer at an early stage, which affects the choice of an appropriate treatment for the patient with cancer, reducing the efficiency of the therapy and increasing the chances of that tumor spreading and lethally affecting other organs, she added.
According to the specialist in bone cancer and metastasis, the results were successful. Due to the nature of the nanomaterial, several advantages were obtained, such as its low cytotoxicity, high quantum yield, a longer lifespan, chemical stability and high specificity to recognize tumors after its systemic administration. Demonstrating a great potential as a biomarker to improve the diagnosis of breast cancer and make it much more accurate. The next step is to perform clinical tests to demonstrate its effectiveness in patients, and then commercialization, she said.
This type of nanoparticle can be used for cancers that have a high content of folate receptors, such as breast, prostate, ovary. However, the corresponding tests must be performed to determine the nanoparticles effectiveness. They can also be used to monitor the progression of cancer and evaluate the response of the tumor to a therapeutic treatment, she said.
The project obtained funding from CONACYT during 2015, and from the American Society in Bone and Mineral Research, entity that awarded the “Rising Star” to Dr. Juárez Camacho in 2016. The first results were published in 2018 in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology.
Source: La Jornada