Cancer is difficult to treat, especially because there are so many different types, and as such scientists are coming up with new and creative ways to fight the disease. Today, a new study found that iron nanowires could lead a three-pronged attack on cancer cells, using together heat, vibration and drugs.
Nanowires are only 30 to 40 nanometers thick and consist of an iron core wrapped in an iron oxide shell. The idea is that these could be inserted into a tumor and then induced to attack cancer cells in several ways.
By exposing the wires to a low-power magnetic field, they begin to vibrate, which physically tears the walls of the targeted cells. If hit by near infrared light from a laser, the wires will heat up, delivering a lethal dose of heat directly to cells.
And third, the team coated the outside of the nanowires with an anti-cancer drug called doxorubicin. These drug molecules were linked to linkers that are sensitive to changes in pH, so they only dissolve in cancer cells, which are generally more acidic than healthy cells. This means that drugs will only be delivered to where they are needed.
The team tested this technique on tumors grown in the lab and found that nanowires were able to kill around 90% of cancer cells. This makes this triple threat much more effective than any of the methods alone. In addition, it should minimize side effects on healthy cells, due to the targeted nature of the treatment.
The team says the key to this success lies in the fabrication of the wire. This is because metal can be easily heated and affected by magnetic fields, which allows the first two strands to attack. And perhaps more importantly, it is already approved as safe for humans, being a vital mineral and native to the body.
“Overall, the capabilities of iron-based nanomaterials make them very promising for the creation of biomedical nanorobots, which could revolutionize healthcare,” says Jürgen Kosel, principal investigator of the study. “While it may sound futuristic, developments are on track.”
The study was conducted by researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and CIC biomaGUNE. The research was published in the journal Applied materials and interfaces ACS.