Wednesday, March 21, 2018

To wipe out cancer cells, UTSA professor uses light-activated nanoparticle

To wipe out cancer cells, UTSA professor uses light-activated nanoparticle

Gdovin has created a nanoparticle that can seek out cancer cells and deliver a light-activated chemical that wipes them out.

(Feb. 5, 2018) -- UTSA biology professor Matthew Gdovin has expanded on his innovative method of treating cancerous tumors via light-activated intracellular acidosis. Gdovin’s new delivery method, which utilizes a nanoparticle to wipe out cancer cells, may help people with hard-to-reach tumors and especially aggressive types of cancer.

Gdovin’s previous work involved injecting a chemical compound, nitrobenzaldehyde, into a cancerous tumor and allowing it to diffuse into the tissue. Next, he would then aim a beam of light at the tissue, causing the cells to become very acidic inside and commit suicide amidst the resulting stressful environment. Within two hours, laboratory tests showed that 95 percent of the targeted cancer cells were dead. The method was even effective against triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types of cancer and among the hardest to treat.

In a new study, Gdovin describes how he has improved upon his work by introducing a nanoparticle that contains nitrobenzaldehyde. Once approved by the FDA, the nanoparticle could be injected into a patient’s bloodstream where it seeks out cancer cells through a special compound on its surface and attaches to receptors on the cancer cells’ outer layer. Then, it enters the cancer cell and is activated by deep-penetrating near-infrared light.

Just as in Gdovin’s previous work, the light works as a catalyst to kill the cancer cells. The nanoparticle is activated and immediately causes acidosis within the tumor, causing the cells to commit suicide to escape the acidic environment.

The targeted approach of the nanoparticle removes any risk of healthy cells being harmed by the treatment, because those cells don’t possess the same receptors as the cancer cells and aren’t as attractive to the nanoparticle. After the cancer cells are all dead, the immune system removes them and normal tissue regrow in their place.

Since first presenting his work in an abstract with his students last year, Gdovin has founded a company, Vita Nova Biological Inc., with his high school friend, UTSA alumnus Greg Espenhover, to support his innovative approaches to cancer treatment. His CEO is Tom Roberts, who previously served in a leadership role in Invictus Medical, a company created by a UTSA student. The group is currently seeking investors to expand its research opportunities.

Gdovin’s UTSA laboratory is bustling with undergraduate and graduate students, who take an active role in his research. They are currently preparing for the small animal trial phase of FDA approval, and frequently receive inquiries from around the world from cancer patients clamoring to become a part of human clinical trials, which have yet to begin.

“We always knew there were many, many people out there with poor prognoses who need something innovative to fight back,” Gdovin said. “That is why we started doing this to begin with. We’re thinking creatively and attacking cancer from all angles, because that’s how you face something that seems impossible.”

- Joanna Carver

Read Matthew Gdovin’s study “Focal photodynamic intracellular acidification as a cancer therapeutic

Learn more about the Gdovin Laboratory.

Learn more about Vita Nova Biological.

Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biology.

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