Researchers at Rice and Northwestern universities engineered a way of encapsulating toxic chemo agents inside of gold nanoshells that deliver and deposit their contents only inside neoplastic cells. Reported on in the latest Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study involved getting docetaxel and lapatinib chemo drugs inside of gold nanoshells which can be opened up with a near-infrared laser.
To hold the chemo agents securely to the gold shell, strands of DNA are used to connect the docetaxel while albumin protein kept the lapatinib stuck. The near-infrared laser beam, which can penetrate tissue up to a few inches, breaks the bonds holding the chemo drugs and expands the shell to let them out.
So far this has been achieved in laboratory cultures of breast cancer cells, but the principle should be applicable to attacking actual tumors. Of course further animal and other studies will have to prove that out. In the future the researchers hope to use macrophages, white blood cells able to get inside of tumors, as the carrier vesicles, and they have already shown in the latest study that macrophages can carry chemo drugs and release them only when activated by the laser.