Nanocarriers that can kill tumors with drugs and DNA


October 1, 2006

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October 2, 2006 Singapore scientists have developed nanoparticles that can carry both small molecular anticancer drugs and nucleic acids simultaneously for improved cancer therapy. The uniqueness of the new technology from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) lies in the design of a special biodegradable carrier (cationic core-shell nanoparticle), which can enclose drug molecules and allow therapeutic nucleic acids to bind onto it. It can efficiently introduce DNA into a cell to be incorporated into its genetic make-up, i.e. induce high gene expression level, especially in both human and mouse breast cancer cell lines, and mouse breast cancer model. The co-delivery of small molecular drugs with nucleic acids can improve gene transfection efficiency, reduce side-effects of these drugs, and achieve the synergistic effect of drug and gene therapy for the more effective treatment of cancer.

Results have shown that the co-delivery of an anti-cancer drug (paclitaxel) with a highly potent anti-tumor ‘messenger molecule’ (IL-12 encoded plasmid2) using the carrier suppressed cancer growth more efficiently than the delivery of either paclitaxel or the plasmid in mice bearing 4T1 breast cancer.

In collaboration with Nanyang Technological University, experiments were also conducted to co-deliver paclitaxel and small interfering RNA (siRNA) targeting a protein that prevents cell death (Bcl-2) to MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cell line. The cancer cells became more susceptible to the effects of the drug, due to the additional effect of the siRNA targeting Bcl-23.

This special carrier can also be potentially used to co-deliver therapeutic nucleic acids to prevent cancer cells from developing resistance to multiple drugs4. This, coupled with the simultaneous delivery of specific anticancer drugs, could enhance the therapeutic effects of such drugs.

Other scientists in this field have tried to use liposomes made from cationic (charged) lipids to transport drugs and DNA. The carrier developed at IBN is self-assembled from a biodegradable cationic copolymer. Hence, it is more easily produced and its size and characteristics are more easily controlled compared to liposomes. More importantly, it can deliver nucleic acids more effectively.

“These nanocarriers developed by our team have a variety of applications in medication and as a gene transfection agent for biological research,” said Dr Yi-Yan Yang, who led the project team comprising Yong Wang, Shujun Gao, Wen-Hui Ye and Ho Sup Yoon. “They provide an interesting approach to improving the efficiency of cancer treatments.”

United States and PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) patents have been filed by IBN on the invention.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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