Electron microscopic image of a single human lymphocyte. Source: Dr. Triche National Cancer InstituteElectron microscopic image of a single human lymphocyte. Source: Dr. Triche National Cancer Institute

Scientists from Oregon State University have developed a new nanomedicine platform for cancer to help doctors know which tissues to cut out, and kill any malignant cells that can’t be surgically removed.

This nanomedicine allows for greater precision and thoroughness in treating cancer.

Nanoparticles tightly loaded with a dye compound are administered systematically — injected intravenously or into the peritoneum. When the doctors reach the tumor site, the tumor's intracellular environment effectively flips the switch on the compound’s fluorescence.

This ability allows for detection by a near-infrared (NIR) imaging system that helps surgeons know, in real time, what needs to be removed.

Any glowing areas that can’t be cut out are given phototherapy. Phototherapy means the areas are irradiated with a near-infrared laser that causes the nanoparticles to head up and kill the remaining cancer cells.

The nanomedicine platform consists of silicon naphthalocyanine (SiNc) densely packed in biodegradable PEG-PCL nanoparticles. The SiNc is engineered to be non-fluorescent at first until the tumor activates the fluorescence by loosening the packing, which doesn’t cause any non-cancerous tissue to glow.

The research team operated with this nanomedicine with mice using real-time imaging, which showed that the new nanoparticles are compatible with a standard, FDA-approved imaging system. The efficacy of the phototherapy was also demonstrated in vivo.

"The nanoplatform system is quite simple but quite effective," Olena Taratula said.

Following laboratory testing of the platform will include rats, followed by testing on dogs that are already scheduled for cancer surgeries at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

"They're going to do surgery on those dogs anyway, and they can use our nanomedicine platform as an additional tool to see if they can identify the cancer cells," Taratula said.

The paper on this research was published in Theranostics.