Jeff Herman
Apr 17, 2012

Nanobubbles and nanoparticles improve chemotherapy

Dmitri Lapotko, one of the Rice University nanobubble researchers. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice UniversityRecently, in several articles here on Patexia, we have commented on the importance of nanotechnology in medicine, including everything from lamprey robots to micro-surgeries. There is even a novel biomedical sensor that runs on rap music. As futuristic as this technology is, it is pointless without a purpose. Having robots aimlessly shooting through your bloodstream without any care in the world, or having a sensor that runs on music, but has no actual use, won’t exactly be helpful. 

But with purpose, such as finding novel ways to detect diseased tissue or providing effective, directed treatment, nanotechnology may be key to our future health care.  For example, researchers from Rice University are using targeted antibodies to direct cancer cells, but not normal tissue, to take up gold nanoparticles. Once the gold nanoparticles are in the cancer cells, the researchers use  plasmonic nanobubbles to allow for focused chemotherapy administration. Plasmonic nanobubbles are formed when the gold particles in the cells are pulsed by a laser, leading to small, temporary heated bubbles of water vapor. These nanobubbles create holes within the cellular membrane, allowing for the rapid uptake of chemotherapy medication.  

With nanobubbles, scientists will be able to pinpoint directed treatment at the cellular level, attacking cancer cells while avoiding normal tissue. This method has shown higher precision in cell culture, with less toxic effects, than other nanoparticle techniques.  It has also been successfully used to transport genetic material into cells.  Further research is necessary before this process can be used in a clinical setting, because while it shows promise, there are some limitations with this method. The formation and destruction of bubbles within living tissue can be dangerous to tissue.  Nanobubbles may actually have similar tissue effects to ultrasonic cavitation, a side effect of ultrasound in which the sound waves cause the formation of bubbles in tissue.  When the bubbles collapse massive tissue damage can occur.  Similarly, if not precisely controlled, nanobubbles may lead to potentially severe, unwanted tissue damage.

A rendering of BIND-014, a nanoparticple improving chemotherapy. Credit: Digizyme, Inc.Other aspects of direct nanotechnology chemotherapy administration are in development.  Founded in 2006, BIND Biosciences, a leader in nanotechnology, has been developing a large library of nanoparticles with specific homing ligand molecules that allow for the specific targeting of cancer cells and directed chemotherapy administration.  In a Phase I clinical trial of the BIND-014 nanoparticle, 17 patients with advanced or metastatic tumors were administered with docetaxol, a well-established chemotherapy medication. With BIND-014, a much higher blood level of docetaxol was observed in patients at similar administered doses.  Furthermore, there were no apparent increases in side effects compared to docetaxol alone.  In fact, side effects normally associated with docetaxol were actually reduced. BIND-014 with docetaxol effectively reduced tumor size, with a much lower docetaxol dose than normally administered, which could greatly reduce dangerous side effects and increase the effectiveness of the drug.  Phase II trials are presently underway.  

Nanotechnology is still in its infancy. Because physics in the the molecular world can act very differently than the macro-world, certain limitations will need to be addressed.  However, with the drive and vision of our scientists and clinicians, the development and commercialization of  nanotechnology like BIND-014, will provide an innovative treatment option for a variety of diseases.


Watch this video for more information about the Rice University nanobubble project: