Nanoparticles to deliver drugs inside tumors, or to increase the effectiveness of therapeutic anti-cancer vaccines by stimulating the immune system. And thus give a new impetus to therapies against soft tissue sarcomas and melanoma. These are the two objectives of the PEGASO project, coordinated by the IRST ‘Dino Amadori’ IRCCS of Meldola, in which the Department of Chemistry of the University and the IRCCS Istituto Ortopedico Rizzoli of Bologna also participate.
Nanoparticles as drones
“Nanotechnology can overcome the cancer barrier, so far impervious to some standard therapies, and represents a very promising strategy for delivering anti-tumor therapies directly into diseased cells with extreme precision – he explained Alessandro De Vitaresearch pharmacist of the Preclinical and Osteoncology Sector of the Biosciences Laboratory of the IRST ‘Dino Amadori’ IRCCS, Principal Investigator of PEGASO, supported by the biotechnologist Jenny Bulgarelli – The nanoparticles, which work like drones, are able to pass through the dense mass surrounding the cancer and transport the anticancer drug selectively into the diseased cells, in higher concentrations and without damaging healthy tissues”.
by Irma D’Aria
What makes this possible is their size: just a few nanometers (billionth of a meter) large, they are able to enter cells – which have a diameter between 10,000 and 20,000 nanometers – and interact with DNA and proteins, functioning like ferrymen: “We are faced with the most advanced molecularly targeted therapies – continues De Vita – We firmly believe that nanoparticles, used as an innovative platform for the delivery of anti-tumor drugs, can improve the specificity and effectiveness of treatments”. Now, thanks to this project, the system can be tested.
Nanopharmaceuticals against sarcomas and melanomas
The nanoparticles will be tested against two types of tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, rare tumors with low five-year survival rates for metastatic disease (around 15%), and melanomas with BRAF gene mutations, tumors that they have excellent five-year survival rates (close to 90%) but in which there is a proportion of patients who do not respond to therapies. The drug tested is called LIPO-LOX, developed by IRST researchers over ten years of studies and which has already shown, in laboratory tests, positive results in triple-negative breast cancer: “LIPO-LOX is a liposome – explains De Vita – a nanosized particle engineered with a monoclonal antibody to specifically target cancer cells. Tumor cells are isolated from the patient’s surgical sample to be grown in the laboratory and exposed to the nanodrug. Another objective of PEGASO is to use the nanotechnological platform as a strategy to stimulate the immune response with an anti-tumor vaccine. One of the hypotheses we want to answer is that combining nanodrugs with tumor RNA release vesicles can make the vaccine more effective, thus restoring the patient’s immune system, helping him to fight the disease”.
by Tiziana Moriconi
An international advanced therapies project
The project will end in 2026 and relies on funding of 450 thousand euros from the Ministry of Health. “It is the culmination of 10 years of work by our researchers in the field of nanotechnology and collaboration with the most important nanopharmaceutical research centers in the world, such as the Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston. In our Institute – he commented Giovanni MartinelliScientific Director of the Romagna Institute for the Study of Tumors ‘Dino Amadori’, IRST IRCCS of Meldola – we have a Cell Factory authorized by the Italian Medicines Agency for the production of Medicines for Advanced Therapy (ATMP) with approximately 20 years of experience in the production of a dendritic cell-based anti-tumor vaccine”.