Nanoparticle 'death genes' could target brain tumors

Johns Hopkins biomedical engineers and neurosurgeons report that they have created biodegradable nanoparticles able to carry DNA to brain-cancer cells in mice.

Such particles loaded with “death genes” might one day be given to brain cancer patients during neurosurgery to selectively kill off any remaining tumor cells, the Johns Hopkins team says. Because it is difficult to reach brain cells through the blood, the team turned its efforts to the use of particles that could carry tumor-destroying DNA instructions directly to cancer cells during surgery.

“In our experiments, our nanoparticles successfully delivered a test gene to brain cancer cells in mice, where it was then turned on,” said Jordan Green, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We now have evidence that these tiny Trojan horses will also be able to carry genes that selectively induce death in cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells healthy,” he said, as reported at Newswise.

Green and his colleagues focused on glioblastomas, a lethal and aggressive form of brain cancer. In a summary of the research posted on ACS Nano, they write, “Current glioblastoma therapies are insufficient to prevent tumor recurrence and eventual death. Here, we describe a method to treat malignant glioma by nonviral DNA delivery…with a focus on the brain tumor initiating cells (BTICs), the tumor cell population believed to be responsible for the formation of new tumors and resistance to many conventional therapies.”

The summary concludes, “This work shows the potential of nonviral gene delivery tools to target human brain tumors.”

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