Using bubbles to shoot drugs into tumours

  • By Nanyang Technological University
  • Posted 2 years ago
  • Reading Time : a few minutes

Scientists at NTU invent new method which may solve some of the most pressing problems faced in chemotherapy used to treat cancer

Asst Prof Xu Chenjie (right) and Assoc Prof Claus-Dieter Ohl (left) looking at the magnetic bubbles on a petridish.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) scientists ​have invented a new way to deliver cancer drugs deep into tumour cells. They create micro-sized gas bubbles coated with cancer drug particles and iron oxide nanoparticles, and then use magnets to direct these bubbles to gather around a specific tumour. Ultrasound is then used to vibrate the microbubbles, providing the energy to direct the drug particles into a targeted area.

This innovative technique was developed by a multidisciplinary team of scientists, led by Assistant Professor Xu Chenjie from the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and Associate Professor Claus-Dieter Ohl from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Asst Prof Xu, who is also a researcher at the NTU-Northwestern Institute for Nanomedicine, said their new method may solve some of the most pressing problems faced in chemotherapy used to treat cancer.

The main issue is that current chemotherapy drugs are largely non-targeted. The drug particles flow in the bloodstream, damaging both healthy and cancerous cells. Typically, these drugs are flushed away quickly in organs such as the lungs and liver, limiting their effectiveness. The remaining drugs are also unable to penetrate deep into the core of the tumour, leaving some cancer cells alive, which could lead to a resurgence in tumour growth.

“The first unique characteristic of our microbubbles is that they are magnetic. After injecting them into the bloodstream, we are able to gather them around the tumour using magnets and ensure that they don’t kill the healthy cells,” explains Asst Prof Xu, who has been working on cancer diagnosis and drug delivery systems since 2004.

“More importantly, our invention is the first of its kind that allows drug particles to be directed deep into a tumour in a few milliseconds. They can penetrate a depth of 50 cell layers or more – which is about 200 micrometres, twice the width of a human hair. This helps to ensure that the drugs can reach the cancer cells on the surface and also inside the core of the tumour,” he adds.

Credit: Nanyang Technological University