News Feature | June 11, 2014

UCSB Researchers Discover Potential Cancer "Silver Bullet"

By Estel Grace Masangkay


Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) have developed a nanoparticle to improve drug delivery efficiency. The scientists have encased the silver, spherical nanoparticle with a shell coated with a peptide that allows it to target tumor cells. The nanoparticle’s shell is etchable so those nanoparticles that don’t hit the target can be broken down and eliminated safely.

At its core, the nanoparticle uses a phenomenon known as plasmonics, in which nanostructured materials like silver resonate in light and concentrate the electromagnetic field near the surface. This makes fluorescent dyes brighter compared to their natural state when no metal is around. As the core is etched, the brightness fades and the particle grow dim.

A simple etching technique using biocompatible chemicals has been developed by UCSB’s Ruoslahti Research Laboratory to quantify which cells have been targeted and how much nanoparticle each cancer cell has internalized. The researchers are able to vary the nanoparticle’s exterior coating in order to determine the particles’ efficiency in targeting tumors as well as internalization. Varying the surface agent of the nanoparticles allows the scientists to target different diseases or bacteria organisms through the use of different receptors.

Erkki Ruoslahti, adjunct distinguished professor in UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine and MCDB department and at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, said, “These new nanoparticles have some remarkable properties that have already proven useful as a tool in our work that relates to targeted drug delivery into tumors. They also have potential applications in combating infections. Dangerous infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics are getting more common, and new approaches to deal with this problem are desperately needed. Silver is a locally used antibacterial agent and our targeting technology may make it possible to use silver nanoparticles in treating infections anywhere in the body.”

The researchers’ work appears in the journal Nature Materials.