News Feature | April 30, 2014

‘Trojan Horse' Nanoparticles Deliver Death Genes To Brain Cancer Cells

By Estel Grace Masangkay


Johns Hopkins biomedical engineers and neurosurgeons announced that they have successfully manufactured biodegradable nanoparticles that are able to carry ‘death genes’ to brain cancer cells in mice. The scientists likened the DNA-carrying nanoparticles to Trojan horses that target and enter tumor cells.

The team reported that results of their proof of principle experiment indicate that such Trojan horse nanoparticles loaded with death genes might one day be used in patients with brain cancer during neurosurgery. The nanoparticles will allow normal brain tissue to stay unharmed while they selectively targetand kill any remaining tumor cells.

Jordan Green, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, “In our experiments, our nanoparticles successfully delivered a test gene to brain cancer cells in mice, where it was then turned on. We now have evidence that these tiny Trojan horses will also be able to carry genes that selectively induce death in cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells healthy.”

Professor Green’s lab specializes in manufacturing tiny, round particles made of biodegradable plastic which are enhanced and sent out to complete medical missions. Professor Green’s team produced dozens of different nanoparticles in order to test their ability to carry DNA sequences to cells used in the experiment.

The researchers focused on the most deadly and aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastomas. Median survival time for glioblastomas is only 14.6 months with chemotherapy and radiation.

Improvements in treatment will only be achieved when cancer cells currently resistant to treatment are able to be destroyed, said Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, professor of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the research team. “It is exciting to have found a way to selectively target gene delivery to cancer cells. It’s a method that is much more feasible and safer for patients than traditional gene therapy, which uses modified viruses to carry out the treatment,” said Professor Quiñones-Hinojosa.

A summary of the researchers’ study results was published online in the journal ACS Nano.