To prevent this, the lab coated the nanocages with a layer of PEG, a nontoxic chemical most people have encountered in the form of the laxatives GoLyTELY or MiraLAX. PEG resists the adsorption of proteins, in effect disguising the nanoparticles so that the immune system cannot recognize them.
Instead of being swept from the bloodstream, the disguised particles circulate long enough to accumulate in tumors.
A growing tumor must develop its own blood supply to prevent its core from being starved of oxygen and nutrients. But tumor vessels are as aberrant as tumor cells. They have irregular diameters and abnormal branching patterns, but most importantly, they have thin, leaky walls.
The cells that line a tumor's blood vessel, normally packed so tightly they form a waterproof barrier, are disorganized and irregularly shaped, and there are gaps between them.
The nanocages infiltrate through those gaps efficiently enough that they turn the surface of the normally pinkish tumor black.
A trial run
In Welch's lab, mice bearing tumors on both flanks were randomly divided into two groups. The mice in one group were injected with the PEG-coated nanocages and those in the other with buffer solution. Several days later the right tumor of each animal was exposed to a diode laser for 10 minutes.
The team employed several different noninvasive imaging techniques to follow the effects of the therapy. (Welch is head of the oncologic imaging research program at the Siteman Cancer Center of Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital and has worked on imaging agents and techniques for many years.)
During irradiation, thermal images of the mice were made with an infrared camera. As is true of cells in other animals that automatically regulate their body temperature, mouse cells function optimally only if the mouse's body temperature remains between 36.5 and 37.5
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis