Researchers at UCLA Develop New Nanomaterials to Deliver Anticancer Drugs to Kill Cancer Cells

UCLA Health article

The poor solubility of anticancer drugs is one of the major problems in cancer therapy because the drugs require the addition of solvents in order to be easily absorbed into cancer cells. Unfortunately, these solvents not only dilute the potency of the drugs but create toxicity as well.

In a paper scheduled to be published in the nanoscience journal Small in June, researchers from UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute and Jonsson Cancer Center report a novel approach using silica-based nanoparticles to deliver the anticancer drug camptothecin and other water-insoluble drugs into human cancer cells.

The study is led by Fuyu Tamanoi, UCLA professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and director of the Jonsson Cancer Center's Signal Transduction and Therapeutics Program Area, and Jeffrey Zink, UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Tamanoi and Zink devised a method for incorporating the representative hydrophobic anticancer drug camptothecin into the pores of fluorescent mesoporous silica nanoparticles and delivering the particles into a variety of human cancer cells to induce cell death. The results suggest that the mesoporous silica nanoparticles might be used as a vehicle to overcome the insolubility problem of many anticancer drugs.

"Silica nanomaterials show promise for delivering camptothecin and other water-insoluble drugs," Tamanoi said. "We have successfully loaded hydrophobic anticancer drugs into mesoporous nanoparticles and delivered them into human cancer cells to induce cell death."

"The beauty of our findings is that these nanoparticles are biocompatible, contain tubular pores and are relatively easy to modify," Zink said. "Additional modification by attaching a ligand against a cancer-cell-specific receptor can make the nanoparticles recognizable by cancer cells."

A critical obstacle and challenge for cancer therapy is the limited availability of effective biocompatible delivery systems. Since many effective anticancer agents have poor water solubility, the development of novel delivery systems for these molecules without the use of organic solvents has received significant attention.

Camptothecin (CPT) and its derivatives are considered to be among the most effective anticancer drugs of the 21st century. Although studies have demonstrated their effectiveness against carcinomas of the stomach, colon, neck and bladder, as well as against breast cancer, small-cell lung cancer and leukemia in vitro, clinical application of CPT in humans has only been carried out with CPT derivatives that have improved water solubility.

"In order to be used on humans, current cancer therapies such as CPT or Taxol, which are poorly water soluble, must be mixed with organic solvents in order to be delivered into the body," Tamanoi said. "These elements produce toxic side effects and in fact decrease the potency of the cancer therapy."

To overcome these problems, drug delivery systems using pegylated polymers, liposomal particles or albumin-based nanoparticles have been developed.

The new research findings show that mesoporous silica nanoparticles offer great potential and a promising approach to the delivery of therapeutic agents into targeted organs or cells. The pores in the nanoparticles could be closed by constructing an appropriate cap structure. This provides the ability to control the release of anticancer drugs by external stimuli.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and represents a collaboration between two totally different fields: bioscience and chemistry. The researchers came together because of their common interests in the identification of novel anticancer drugs and the potential for nano-delivery. Both Tamanoi and Zink are members of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, which encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration to solve problems in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

For information about Fuyu Tamanoi's research, visit the Tamanoi Research Lab's Web site at

For more information about Jeffrey Zink, visit the Zink Group Web site at

About the California NanoSystems Institute

The California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) is a multidisciplinary research center at UCLA whose mission is to encourage university-industry collaboration and to enable the rapid commercialization of discoveries in nanosystems. CNSI members include some of the world's preeminent scientists, and the work conducted at the institute represents world-class expertise in five targeted areas of nanosystems-related research: renewable energy; environmental nanotechnology and nanotoxicology; nanobiotechnology and biomaterials; nanomechanical and nanofluidic systems; and nanoelectronics, photonics and architectonics. For additional information, visit the CNSI Web site at

About UCLA

UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 37,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer more than 300 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Four alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.



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