The findings, published online today in Nature Materials (DOI: 10.1038/NMAT2986), are significant because unlike other nanoparticles, the new nanoparticle has a unique and versatile structure that could potentially change the way tumours are treated, said Professor Gang Zheng of medical biophysics, the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and Princess Margaret Hospital, principal investigator of the study.
“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. The structure of the nanoparticle, which is like a miniature and colourful water balloon, means it can also be filled with drugs to treat the tumour it is targeting,” Zheng said.
It works this way, explained first author Jonathan Lovell, a doctoral student at IBBME and the Ontario Cancer Institute at Princess Margaret : “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. 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 added that once the nanoparticle hits its tumor target, it becomes fluorescent to signal “mission accomplished.”
“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,” said Zheng.