Researchers from the CNR Institute of Applied Physics and the University of Florence have developed a new kind of cancer treatment. “Cancer cells differ from normal cells for their thirst for oxygen. With our study we have discovered that it is precisely the characteristics that have developed to cope with hypoxia that can be used to identify them,” explains Fulvio Ratto, author of the study and researcher at the Ifac-Cnr. “In particular, we found that hypoxic cancer cells react to oxygen deficiency by placing an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase 9 (CA9) on the membrane. We have made this kind of imprint of gold nanoparticles with a CA9 inhibitor identifiable, for example a sulfonamide: in this manner nanoparticles identify and attack the hypoxic tumor cells, which are the most difficult to reach with conventional therapies.”

Once bound to these cells in a selective manner, the nanoparticles can be activated with a laser for diagnostic as well as therapeutic purposes. “Depending on the light exposure regimen the nanoparticles generate ultrasound or heat, which may be respectively used for diagnostic imaging or for hyperthermic removal of malignant cells” continues Ratto. “Basically, gold nanoparticles can detect the presence of tumor masses or destroy their cells with heat.”
The technology, patent protected, is explained in Advanced Functional Materials.