IISc scientists develop novel approach to detect and kill cancer cells

The scientists have created hybrid nanoparticles made of gold and copper sulphide, which can kill cancer cells using heat, and enable their detection using sound waves.

Updated - September 12, 2023 01:12 am IST

Published - September 11, 2023 08:02 pm IST - Bengaluru

A file photo of The Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru.

A file photo of The Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: File photo

Indian Institute of Science (IISc) scientists have developed a new approach to potentially detect and kill cancer cells, especially those which form a solid tumour mass.

The scientists have created hybrid nanoparticles made of gold and copper sulphide, which can kill cancer cells using heat, and enable their detection using sound waves.

“Early detection and treatment are key in the battle against cancer. Copper sulphide nanoparticles have previously received attention for their application in cancer diagnosis, while gold nanoparticles, which can be chemically modified to target cancer cells, have shown anticancer effects. In the current study, the IISc team decided to combine these two into hybrid nanoparticles,” IISc said.

Jaya Prakash, assistant professor at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics (IAP), IISc, said that these particles have photothermal, oxidative stress, and photoacoustic properties.

“When light is shined on these hybrid nanoparticles, they absorb the light and generate heat, which can kill cancer cells. These nanoparticles also produce singlet oxygen atoms that are toxic for the cells. “We want both these mechanisms to kill the cancer cell,” Mr. Jaya Prakash explained.

The researchers said that the nanoparticles can also help diagnose certain cancers. Existing methods such as standalone CT and MRI scans require trained radiology professionals to decipher the images. The photoacoustic property of the nanoparticles allows them to absorb light and generate ultrasound waves, which can be used to detect cancer cells with high contrast once the particles reach them. The ultrasound waves generated from the particles allow for a more accurate image resolution as sound waves scatter less when they pass through tissues compared to light. Scans created from the generated ultrasound waves can also provide better clarity and can be used to measure the oxygen saturation in the tumour, boosting their detection.

“You can integrate this with existing systems of detection or treatment. For example, the nanoparticles can be triggered to produce heat by shining a light on them using an endoscope that is typically used for cancer screening,” said Ashok M. Raichur, professor at the Department of Materials Engineering, and another corresponding author.

Previously developed nanoparticles have limited applications because of their large size. The IISc team used a novel reduction method to deposit tiny seeds of gold onto the copper sulphide surface. The resulting hybrid nanoparticles – less than 8 nm in size – can potentially travel inside tissues easily and reach tumours. The researchers believe that the nanoparticles’ small size would also allow them to leave the human body naturally without accumulating, although extensive studies have to be carried out to determine if they are safe to use inside the human body. In the current study, the researchers tested their nanoparticles on lung cancer and cervical cancer cell lines in the lab. They now plan to take the results forward for clinical development.

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