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Researchers create organic, non-toxic nanoparticle


Toronto, ON – A team of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) scientists have created an organic nanoparticle that is completely non-toxic, biodegradable and nimble in the way it uses light and heat to treat cancer and deliver drugs.

The findings, published online in Nature Materials on March 20, are significant because unlike other nanoparticles, the new nanoparticle has a unique and versatile structure that could potentially change the way tumours are treated, says principal investigator Dr Gang Zheng, senior scientist, Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI), PMH.

“In the lab, we combined two naturally occurring molecules (chlorophyll and lipid) to create a unique nanoparticle that shows promise for numerous diverse light-based (biophotonic) applications,” says Dr Zheng. “The structure of the nanoparticle, which is like a miniature and colorful water balloon, means it can also be filled with drugs to treat the tumour it is targeting.”

“Photothermal therapy uses light and heat to destroy tumours. With the nanoparticle’s ability to absorb so much light and accumulate in tumours, a laser can rapidly heat the tumour to a temperature of 60 degrees and destroy it,” says Jonathan Lovell, first author and a doctoral student at OCI. “The nanoparticle can also be used for photoacoustic imaging, which combines light and sound to produce a very high-resolution image that can be used to find and target tumours.” He adds that once the nanoparticle hits its tumour target, it becomes fluorescent.

“There are many nanoparticles out there, but this one is the complete package, a kind of one-stop shopping for various types of cancer imaging and treatment options that can now be mixed and matched in ways previously unimaginable. The unprecedented safety of this nanoparticle in the body is the icing on the cake. We are excited by the possibilities for its use in the clinic,” says Dr Zheng.

The article is entitled “Porphysome nanovesicles generated by porphyrin bilayers for use as multimodal biophotonic contrast agents.”