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RMU Research Shows How Nanoparticles Can Fight Cancer

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pittsburgh – A computer simulation by a Robert Morris University professor demonstrates how nanoparticles can be manipulated to deliver cancer-fighting drugs directly to tumor cells to reduce the severe side effects of chemotherapy.

Research by Gavin Buxton, assistant professor of physics at RMU, shows that adjusting the combination of water-soluble and water-repellant chemotherapy drugs increases the likelihood that the drugs will be released safely into the tumor. The results of his study, co-authored by Nigel Clarke of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom, have been published in the Journal of Soft Matter by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Conventional methods of chemotherapy sicken patients because the drugs do not discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells. Buxton develops computer models to test the most effective methods to deliver drugs directly to tumors to avoid or minimize damage to healthy cells.

This latest study shows that sandwiching a nanoparticle with a hydrophobic (water-repellant) layer in between a hydrophilic (water-soluble) core and outer shell increases the likelihood that the particle will remain intact until it reaches the acidic regions of the tumor. There, the acidity eats a hole in the particle that releases the cancer-fighting drugs.

Buxton and Clarke plan to continue their research on chemotherapeutic drugs by looking at how hydrophobic and hydrophilic cancer drugs can be combined with the same results.

“It will be interesting to see if these two different kinds of drugs are encapsulated together in the nanoparticle, how they will work to kill the cancer tumor and surrounding cells,” said Buxton.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.