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UNC researchers hope nanoparticles can be the next big thing in cancer care

Posted June 30
Updated July 5

— Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are working with material so small they can't see it with the naked eye.

But they hope the cutting-edge technology can result in some big changes to current cancer treatments.

Scientists hope these nanoparticles can be used with immunotherapy drugs to boost immune system response to cancer.

"Nanoparticles are the size of viruses, so the immune system is trained to detect them," UNC radiation oncologist Dr. Andrew Wang said.

Wang and his research team engineered nanoparticles to process chemical properties. One day, Wang hopes the properties could make immune systems "more robust."

During their research, they used mouse models with tumors treated with radiation to kill groups of cancer cells.

Those cells then released cancer-specific proteins.

Sticky nanoparticles then grab on to those proteins, which end up in lymph nodes and alert the immune system.

The nanoparticles help antibodies better recognize other cancer cells in the body.

"We're able to show the use of nanoparticles significantly improved the survival and the cure rate in these mice," Wang said.

Wang said he believes this approach to cancer treatment has great promise.

"The interface between nanotechnology and immunotherapy is a new and robust area for research," he said.

Wang and his team are in discussions with venture capital firms and pharmaceutical companies to bring this technology into human clinical trials.

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