Better Contrast Agents May Be on the Horizon -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

"The goal of this work for me was to be able to create advanced methods for the treatment of disease, specifically cancer, that reduce the toxic effects that we see with our current treatments," said Kenneth Watkin, a professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois. "And to do that, I had to develop really small carriers.

The tiny carriers Watkin is proposing would zero in on tumours in much the same way that smart bombs take aim at strategic targets. Watkin's transport system of choice are nanoparticles of gadolinium oxide.

A chemical coating functions as spacer, preventing the nanoparticle from undergoing a chemical reaction when it comes in contact with water. It also keeps the nanoparticles from clumping and behaving erratically. The little particles capture the neutrons and emit alpha and gamma rays, and that energy is what can be used to kill cancer cells. "Gadolinium particles capture neutrons at four times a greater rate than boron, and yet boron is what is (currently) used for neutron capture. This means it is potentially a multimodal agent," Watkin explains.

Among the most promising applications is in the treatment of brain tumours: "Treating glioblastomas is very difficult," Watkin said. "Irradiating them is really difficult because you alter all kinds of tissues in the brain. And getting little bubbles like this or other kinds of contrast agents into the brain is difficult. You've got to have something pretty tiny to get in there. So these little particles can be really useful."

In experiments with other types of nanoparticles, Watkin has loaded the particles with cancer-fighting drugs such as Doxorubicin or Taxiter. He also is investigating using them to deliver genetic material such as RNA inhibitor.; Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign