University of Washington researchers found they could cut the spread of cancerous cells by 98 percent, compared to 45 percent for the scorpion venom alone, by combining nanoparticles with a scorpion venom compound already being investigated for treating brain cancer.
For more than a decade scientists have looked at using chlorotoxin, a small peptide isolated from scorpion venom, to target and treat cancer cells. Chlorotoxin binds to a surface protein overexpressed by many types of tumors, including brain cancer. Previous research by Miqin Zhang‘s group combined chlorotoxin with nanometer-scale particles of iron oxide, which fluoresce at that size, for both magnetic resonance and optical imaging.
Chlorotoxin also disrupts the spread of invasive tumors — specifically, it slows cell invasion, the ability of the cancerous cell to penetrate the protective matrix surrounding the cell and travel to a different area of the body to start a new cancer. The MMP-2 on the cell’s surface, which is the binding site for chlorotoxin, is hyperactive in highly invasive tumors such as brain cancer. Researchers believe MMP-2 helps the cancerous cell break through the protective matrix to invade new regions of the body. But when chlorotoxin binds to MMP-2, both get drawn into the cancerous cell.
Research showed that the cells containing nanoparticles plus chlorotoxin were unable to elongate, whereas cells containing only nanoparticles or only chlorotoxin could stretch out. This suggests that the nanoparticle-plus-chlorotoxin disabled the machinery on the cell’s surface that allows cells to change shape, yet another step required for a tumor cell to slip through the body.
So far most cancer research has combined nanoparticles either with chemotherapy that kills cancer cells, or therapy seeking to disrupt the genetic activity of a cancerous cell. This is the first time that nanoparticles have been combined with a therapy that physically stops cancer’s spread.