UNC scientists offer first evidence of using biologically targeted nanoparticles to boost radiation therapy effects

Chapel Hill - Making a tumor more sensitive to radiotherapy is a primary goal of combining chemo and radiation therapy to treat many types of cancer, but with the chemotherapy drugs come unwanted side effects.

UNC scientists report what they believe is the first pre-clinical demonstration of the potential of molecularly targeted nanoparticles as a promising new class of agents that can improve chemoradiotherapy treatment. The nanoparticles target tumor cells, thus sparing normal tissue and avoiding the systemic side effects often associated with chemotherapy drugs. They reported their finding in the October 19, 2011 Epub issue of the American Chemical Society publication ACS NanoIcon indicating that a link will open an external site..

The team used the drug docetaxel, used to treat head and neck cancers. Andrew Wang, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology and senior study author explains, “Docetaxel is a proven drug used in chemoradiotherapy, but it leads to many unwanted side effects on normal organs. Nanoparticle formulation of docetaxel, on the other hand, concentrates in tumors which in turns leads to improved efficacy and fewer side effects”

“We developed a biodegradable nanoparticle formulation of docetaxel that targets the folate receptor, overexpressed in head and neck and other tumors. Folate is a water-soluble form of Vitamin B9.  We found that the folate-targeted nanoparticle was more effective than the docetaxel or non-targeted nanoparticle formulation of docetaxel. We also learned that timing of the radiation following administration of the nanoparticle formulation is critical.

“This information will be very helpful in the clinical translation of nanoparticle drugs in chemoradiation. Our group is currently evaluating two commercial formulations of nanoparticle taxane drugs in preparation for early phase clinical trials in the near future.”

Other UNC authors are: Ronald Chen, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology; Jonathan Copp, BS, research assistant; Adrienne Cox, PhD, associate professor in the departments of pharmacology and radiation oncology; Shrirang Karve, PhD. postdoctoral fellow; Chenxi Li, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, department of biostatistics and NC TraCS Institute; Mary Napier, PhD, research associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics; Rohit Sukamar, BS, research assistant; and Michael Werner, PHD, postdoctoral fellow.

Funding for the study was provided by grants from the North Carolina Triad Chapter of Golfers Against Cancer, a Carolina Center for Nanotechnology Excellence pilot grant, The University Cancer Research Fund, and Dr. Wang is also supported by an NIH/NCI Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology K12 grant.

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