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Nanoparticle platform developed by University of Cambridge scientists to deliver cancer-fighting agent to cells

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A nanoparticle platform has been used to deliver a promising anti-cancer agent to cells by scientists at the University of Cambridge.

Using biodegradable metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, they were able to create a vehicle that could carry the agent - small interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA).

Cells with MOFs carrying siRNA. Picture: David Fairen-Jimenez (18985740)
Cells with MOFs carrying siRNA. Picture: David Fairen-Jimenez (18985740)

Scientists have increasingly focused on using siRNA when seeking new cancer treatments, as it has the potential to inhibit overexpressed cancer-causing genes.

Using computer simulations, Dr David Fairen-Jimenez’s group at the Cambridge Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology found a framework with the perfect pore size to carry one of these siRNA molecules.

Once inside a cell, the framework breaks down into harmless components, and the cancer-fighting agent is released to do its work.

“With traditional cancer therapy if you’re designing new drugs to treat the system, these can have different behaviours, geometries, sizes, and so you’d need a MOF that is optimal for each of these individual drugs,” said Dr Fairen-Jimenez. “But for siRNA, once you develop one MOF that is useful, you can in principle use this for a range of different siRNA sequences, treating different diseases.”

Michelle Teplensky, a former PhD student in Fairen-Jimenez’s group, who carried out the research, said: “People that have done this before have used MOFs that don't have a porosity that's big enough to encapsulate the siRNA, so a lot of it is likely just stuck on the outside.

“We used a MOF that could encapsulate the siRNA and when it's encapsulated you offer more protection. The MOF we chose is made of a zirconium-based metal node and we've done a lot of studies that show zirconium is quite inert and it doesn't cause any toxicity issues.

“One of the benefits of using a MOF with such large pores is that we can get a much more localised, higher dose than other systems would require.

“SiRNA is very powerful, you don't need a huge amount of it to get good functionality. The dose needed is less than five per cent of the porosity of the MOF.”

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