Radiation beams are powerful tools for treating cancer, but one side effect is that the radiation can kill healthy cells that receive exposure.
So researchers are always seeking better ways of protecting healthy tissue that isn’t targeted for treatment.
A study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that an innovative strategy might provide effective treatment with less risk.
The strategy employs microscopic particles of gold, known as nanoparticles. Previous studies have shown that gold nanoparticles absorb much more radiation than cancer cells do. So, if gold nanoparticles could be concentrated in a tumor, less radiation would be required for treatment.
The big challenge is delivering the nanoparticles.
The new study explored a possible solution. Gold nanoparticles can be chemically bonded to molecules called peptides [PEPP-tides], which serve as delivery vehicles. Some peptides are attracted to the acidic conditions created by cancerous tumors.
In the study, researchers conducted laboratory experiments with cultured human lung cancer cells. They treated one group of cells with gold nanoparticles that were bonded to an acid-loving peptide. Another group of cells was exposed to gold nanoparticles without the peptide.
The results showed that cancer cells treated with the nanoparticles bonded to the peptide contained about one-third more gold, compared with cells that received nanoparticles alone.
This study only used cultured cells, but the research team plans to conduct further experiments in mice, which could pave the way for human clinical trials.
If this method proves viable, it could mean safer radiation therapy for cancer patients. That’s a glittering possibility, because better cancer care is something even more valuable than gold.