The team of researchers, led by Physics lecturer Dr Antonios Kanaras, showed that a small dose of gold nanoparticles can activate or inhibit genes that are involved in angiogenesis – a complex process responsible for the supply of oxygen and nutrients to most types of cancer.
“The peptide-functionalised gold nanoparticles that we synthesised are very effective in the deliberate activation or inhibition of angiogenic genes,” said Dr Kanaras.
The team went a step further to control the degree of damage to the endothelial cells using laser illumination. Endothelial cells construct the interior of blood vessels and play a pivotal role in angiogenesis.
The researchers also found that the gold particles could be used as effective tools in cellular nanosurgery.
Dr Kanaras adds: “We have found that gold nanoparticles can have a dual role in cellular manipulation. Applying laser irradiation, we can use the nanoparticles either to destroy endothelial cells, as a measure to cut the blood supply to tumours, or to deliberately open up the cellular membrane in order to deliver a drug efficiently.”
The researchers have published two related papers (NanoLett. 2011, 11 (3), 1358–1363; Small 2011, 7, No. 3, 388–394) with another one submitted for publication and four more planned throughout this year. Their major target is to develop a complete nanotechnology toolkit to manipulate angiogenesis.