Scientists Discover Nanomaterial That Can Trap Off-Target Chemotherapy to Reduce Damage to Healthy Cells

One of the major cons of administering chemotherapy is its tendency to destroy the healthy cells in addition to cancerous cells. This alone constitutes a myriad of both long-term and short-term issues. ‘How can we make chemotherapy safer?’ has been the question in the mind of every chemo scientist and doctor alike. Is the long wait finally over? Scientists from Penn University just made a shocking discovery.



Read Also: Huddersfield University: How Cooling the Scalp Prevents Chemotherapy-Induced Hair Loss

Engineered nanomaterials

Standard chemotherapy, let us say doxorubicin, does not have any inbuilt mechanisms that narrow down its interaction to only cancerous cells; it also kills healthy cells as well. Consequently, scientists attempted to capture stray chemos, however, the techniques they employed were largely ineffective. Sadly, nothing does damage like loose chemotherapy in the system, it can cause more illnesses and reduce the quality of life down the road.

That said, we need to invent newer, more effective ways to trap off-target chemo. The scientists of Penn University may have already found a way.

Penn University scientists created a set of engineered nanomaterials that traps stray chemo from plants. The researchers developed hairy cellulose nanocrystals, also called nanoparticles. Cellulose is a major part of plant cell walls. As the name ‘hairy’ implies there are millions of projections of polymer chains dubbed as ‘hairs’ from the ends. Owing to this feature, the quantity of the drugs in the system that can be captured skyrockets, well beyond the quantity that was captured by previously used devices like exchange ion resin and nanoparticles.

The lead investigator of the research [and assistant professor of chem and biomedical engineering] commented, To reduce the off-target effects of cancer drugs during and after localized chemotherapy, eliminating their systemic circulation is necessary…  We have developed a highly efficient approach that captures DOX at a capacity more than 3,200% higher than other platforms, such as DNA-based materials.

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Furthermore, Sheikhi confirmed that there was no known nanoparticle-based-super-capacity capture technology and this discovery can massively boost cancer treatment as well as better the outcome. In the light of this discovery, scientists can now administer higher doses of chemotherapy, that are more effective, without running the risk of the chemo spreading and damaging adjacent healthy tissues.

For the purpose of developing a device that can capture chemo effectively, the scientists had to treat cellulose fibers in the pulp of softwood with chemicals. Additionally, they made the hairs stable against the ionic conditions of the blood, by imparting them a negative charge. This is in clear contrast to the conventional nanoparticles which when in contact with blood become inert, and as such makes the amount of positively charged drug it can capture almost negligible.

Also, the researchers tested the device’s effectiveness on human serum [that is blood without red, white blood cells and platelets] the results showed that 6000 milligrams of doxorubicin were cleared by one gram of hairy cellulose crystal. Wow, just one!

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Equally important, the researchers noticed that the nanocrystals had no cytotoxicity or adverse effect, whatsoever, on the blood or other cells.

This could indeed be the way out of the woes of chemotherapy.

Clinical significance

This scientific breakthrough in chemotherapy means we can finally push the limits of cancer therapy by a significant amount. This was not possible with other technologies. Unsurprisingly, it could also prove to be helpful in other parts of medicine and outside medicine where separation of components is vital.


The novel technology with a high ability to separate different components will be the foundation on which other successes in improving cancer treatment and outcome will be built.

Read Also: A New Treatment with Less Side Effects for the Most Severe Head and Neck Cancers


Engineering hairy cellulose nanocrystals for chemotherapy drug capture




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