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Using Copper-based Nanomaterials for Cancer Treatments in Mice

The use of copper-based nanoparticles (NPs) for biomedical applications has garnered much attention in recent times. Now, a team of scientists from KU Leuven, the University of Bremen, University of Ioannina, and the Leibniz Institute of Materials Engineering have succeeded in killing cancerous cells in mice using nanomaterials together with immunotherapy. Scientists claim that the cancer growth stopped in mice following the therapy.

Current advances in cancer therapy use one’s own community to fight the tumor. However, in some cases, immunotherapy has not achieved a higher success rate. The interdisciplinary team of scientists found that cancer cells are susceptive to copper oxide nanomaterials — a compound made out of copper and oxygen. When injected inside a living creature, these nanoparticles break down and become dangerous. By using these nanoparticles along with iron oxide, the team was able to better take control of this process to eliminate cancer cells, leaving out the healthy cells unaffected.

Department of Imaging and Pathology’s Dr. Bella B. Manshian and Professor Stefaan Soenen and co-authors of the study, said: “Any material that you make at a nanoscale level has marginally other characteristics in comparison to its usual-sized counterpart. Ingesting metal oxides at large quantities can prove lethal, however, if taken at a nanoscale and more controlled, safe, concentrations, they can have certain advantages.”

In order to eliminate the cancer cells completely, nanoparticles have to be given along with immunotherapy and as the team expected, cancer returned when the mice were subjected to just nanoparticles. Hence, they gave nanoparticles along with immunotherapy. “We saw that the copper nanoparticles killed the cancer cells directly as well as boosted those cells in the immune system that fight foreign substances, for example, cancer cells,” says Dr. Manshian.

Combining immunotherapy and nanomaterials completely eliminated the cancer cells, and could, therefore, be used as a vaccine for lung and colon cancer – the two types of cancer that were studied in the research. To cross-check their findings, the team subjected the mice to cancer cells. The immune system fought against those tumor cells and immediately eliminated them, which was on the lookout for similar cells invading the body.

Scientists claim that this breakthrough approach can work for about sixty percent of all cancers, on the grounds that cancer cells stem from a mutation in the p53 gene – for example, lung, ovarian, colon, and breast cancer.

A vital element is that the tumors were eliminated without the use of chemotherapy, which ordinarily accompanies significant side-effects. Chemotherapy drugs attack cancer cells and sometimes they harm healthy cells along the way. For instance, few chemotherapeutic drugs kill white blood cells, wiping out the safe immune system.

“To the extent I’m mindful, this is the first occasion that metal oxides are used to effectively battle tumor cells with lasting immune effects in live creatures,” Professor Soenen says. “Further, we need to make other metal nanoparticles and distinguish which particles affect which cancer types. This should bring about a far-reaching database.”

The team plans to carry out further tests in which they’ll derive cancer cells from cancer patient tissue. If they get similar results, the scientists aim to set up a clinical trial. To make that happen, in any case, there are still a few obstacles along the way.

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