Scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and Cornell University say that they have developed a new generation of microscopic particles for molecular imaging, which may be readily adapted for tumour targeting and treatment in the clinic.
The researchers say that these particles are biologically safe, stable, and small enough to be easily transported across the body's structures and efficiently excreted through the urine.
They claim to be the first research team to engineer all these properties on a single-particle platform, called "C dots," in order to optimise the biological behaviour and imaging properties of nanoparticles for use in a wide array of biomedical and life science applications.
"Highly sensitive and specific probes and molecular imaging strategies are critical to ensure the earliest possible detection of a tumour and timely response to treatment," said Dr. Michelle Bradbury, MD/PhD, a physician-scientist specializing in molecular imaging and neuroradiology at MSKCC.
"Our findings may now be translated to the investigation of tumour targeting and treatment in the clinic, with the goal of ultimately helping physicians to better tailor treatment to a patient's individual tumour," added the senior author of the study, published in the journal Nano Letters.
Conducting experiments on mice, the researchers found that this new particle platform, or "probe," can be molecularly customized to target surface receptors or other molecules that are expressed on tumour surfaces or even within tumours, and then imaged to evaluate various biological properties of the tumour, including the extent of a tumour's blood vessels, cell death, treatment response, and invasive or metastatic spread to lymph nodes and distant organs.
"Importantly, the ability to define patients that express certain types of molecules on their tumour surfaces will serve as an initial step towards improving treatment management and individualizing medical care," said Dr. Bradbury.
The authors say that the information gained from imaging tumours targeted with C dots may ultimately assist physicians in defining tumour borders for surgery, determining the extent of a tumour's spread, mapping lymph node disease, and improving real-time visualization of small vascular beds, anatomic channels, and neural structures during surgery.
They have also revealed that C dots have been optimised for use in optical and PET imaging, and can be tailored to any particle size without adversely impacting its fluorescent properties.
They, however, concede that though the next generation of nanoparticles holds much clinical promise, more work needs to be done before C dots are approved for use in humans.