Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a way to coat an iron-based contrast agent so it interacts preferentially with acidic environments in the body such as areas of tumor formation or inflammation. The technology may lead to a potentially cheaper, safer, and more effective method of tumor detection than current less specific contrast agents.
The research was conducted by Professor Andrew Tsourkas and graduate student Samuel H. Crayton from the bioengineering department at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and published in the journal ACS Nano. To improve the differentiation between tissues in the body, physicians use contrast agents to achieve better visualization of tissues when imaging.
A non-reactive coating of dextran, a polysaccharide, around the particles keeps them from binding or being absorbed by tissues. The Penn engineers used knowledge of an anaerobic process of tumor metabolism which causes a disruption in the local vasculature and creates a local acidic environment as a potential target. Thus using a glycol chitosan, a sugar-based polymer that reacts with acids, nanocarriers can remain neutral around normal tissue but become ionized in acidic, low pH, environments such as metabolically active tumor sites. This potentially can open up the avenue for new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to tumor detection.
Link: Penn Engineers Develop More Effective MRI Contrast Agent for Cancer Detection
Abstract in ACS Nano: pH-Titratable Superparamagnetic Iron Oxide for Improved Nanoparticle Accumulation in Acidic Tumor Microenvironments