SINGAPORE: Scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have come up with a new way to treat tumours by using bubbles to deliver drugs deep into the cells, the university announced on Monday (Apr 18).
The micro-sized gas bubbles are coated with cancer drug particles and iron oxide nanoparticles. With the use of magnets, they are directed to gather around a specific tumour. Ultrasound is then used to vibrate the microbubbles, giving the energy to inject the drug particles into the targeted area.
They were developed by a multidisciplinary team led by Assistant Professor Xu Chenjie from the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and Associate Professor Claus-Dieter Ohl from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
"The first unique characteristic of our microbubbles is that they are magnetic", said Asst Prof Xu. "After injecting them into the bloodstream, we are able to gather them around the tumour using magnets and ensure that they don't kill the healthy cells. More importantly, our invention is the first of its kind that allows drug particles to be directed deep into a tumour in a few milliseconds. They can penetrate a depth of 50 cell layers or more - which is about 200 micrometres, twice the width of a human hair."
According to Asst Prof Xu, current chemotherapy drugs are largely non-targeted. The drug particles flow in the bloodstream, and can damage both healthy and cancerous cells. These drugs are also typically flushed away quickly in organs, limiting their effectiveness. The remaining drugs are unable to penetrate deep into the core of the tumour, leaving some cancer cells alive.
NTU's microbubbles has been successfully tested in mice. The study has been published by the Nature Publishing Group in Asia Materials, touted to be the top journal for materials sciences in the Asia-Pacific region.