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Study: could nanoparticles force cancer cells to self-destruct?


Cancer that destroys itself with the help of nanoparticles - a utopia?

Combating cancer is a very high priority in medical research. In Germany, cancer is the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular diseases. Cancer therapies are often a physical and psychological ordeal for those affected, since, for example, chemotherapy also affects healthy cells. But researchers at the Royal University of Stockholm (KTH) have made promising progress in the fight against cancer. Thanks to nanoparticles, the therapy could become gentler and at the same time more effective.

Nanoparticles as attractants for cancer cells

The KTH researchers use special molecules called dendrimers. The molecules are characterized by symmetrically arranged branches and are mixed with an organic sulfur compound. The scientists led by Michael Malkoch, professor of fiber and polymer technology at KTH, take advantage of cancer cells' efforts to infect larger molecules in particular. If the dendrimers enriched with the sulfur compound are attacked by human cancer cells, the cancer cells are prevented from multiplying. Instead, the cells begin to destroy disulfide bridges in the dendrimers. This process releases oxygen radicals, which in turn destroy cancer cells.

A promising dream of the future

In contrast to the frequently used chemotherapy, which also destroys many healthy cells and thus makes patient treatment more difficult, the use of dendrimers is much gentler since healthy cells are either immune to oxygen radicals or at least have a high tolerance threshold. "The nanomaterial is ultimately broken down by the body," reports Professor Malkoch. So far, however, the surface of what can be done with dendrimers has only been scratched.

“In previous tests, we used a similar material to fill in bone defects,” explains Malkoch. In some cases it was possible to stabilize bones as a result of a complicated fracture without plates and nails. "It is conceivable that dendrimers will be used as a covering for tumors in the future and thus limit the therapy to the location of the tumor," said Malkoch.

Why are dendrimers so good at fighting cancer?

Dendrimers are chemical compounds whose structure resembles the branching of a tree. This structure is also eponymous, because "Dendron" in Greek means "the tree". The dendrimers were discovered as early as the 1980s. They are similar in size and structure to natural peptides and proteins. Because of their size and their symmetrical branch structure, they can accumulate more cancer cells. The study to combat cancer by dendrimers has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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