Researchers identify potential nanotechnology therapy for rare, incurable bone cancer

A Warren Alpert Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital cancer physician collaborates with molecular researcher to study use of nanotechnology to deliver medicine inside cancer cells.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Researchers from Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital have employed nanotechnology to identify a potentially groundbreaking treatment for chondrosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that is disappointingly unresponsive to existing cancer therapies.

In a paper published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, the researchers describe a new approach to treating the cancer, which typically afflicts adults and has poor survival rates. Their research, using a mouse model, suggests that deploying nanoparticles might prove to be an innovative and effective way to penetrate tumor cells. These “nanopieces,” as the research team calls them, could then deliver nucleic acid therapeutics directly inside the cancer cells and slow tumor growth.

Dr. Richard Terek, chief of musculoskeletal oncology at Rhode Island Hospital, an orthopedic oncology surgeon with the Lifespan Cancer Institute, and a professor of orthopedic surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, has long researched ways to fight chondrosarcoma. For this study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, he teamed up with molecular and nano-medicine researcher Qian Chen. Chen is director of the NIH-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Skeletal Health and Repair at Rhode Island Hospital and a professor of orthopedic research and medical science at Brown.

“What is most novel about the work is that we have used a special type of nanoparticle, which we call a ‘nanopiece delivery platform,’ developed by my collaborator Dr. Chen, for systemic delivery of anti-microRNA sequences (antagomirs),” Terek said. “The work has been performed in cell culture and in a mouse model. We have been able to inhibit metastatic pathways and slow down the spread of cancer. This approach is in keeping with current strategies to turn cancer into a chronic disease. An advantage of the nanopiece platform is its safety and ability to penetrate into the tumor matrix and deliver the cargo to the tumor cells.”

Said Chen: “This has very strong translational value in developing treatment for chondrosarcoma, a lethal disease that currently does not have any effective treatment. Dr. Terek devoted his whole career in developing treatment for this disease, and this may be the most promising potential treatment so far. The nanopieces delivery platform, which we developed at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University, is able to penetrate the tumor, reduce tumor growth and prolong survival period in the mice model.”

He added, “Based on these promising pre-clinical data, the next step is to develop biologic therapeutics specifically targeting human chondrosarcoma.”

Chen and Terek are seeking collaboration with industry and academia to advance development of the potential chondrosarcoma drug.

This study is supported by NIH funding (CA166089 and GM122732).