Nanoparticles and Cancer: In the realm of cancer treatment, researchers are delving into innovative approaches to mitigate the side effects associated with chemotherapy. Dr. Ninh (Irene) La-Beck, from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, has been awarded a substantial five-year, $2.49 million grant by the National Cancer Institute. The focus of this grant, titled “Cholesterol Metabolism in the Pharmacology of Liposomal Therapeutics,” is to unravel the intricate interactions between nanoparticles, the immune system, and cancer. Dr. La-Beck aims to gain insights that will pave the way for the development of advanced drug delivery systems.
Nanoparticles, particularly those the size of a virus particle, present a promising avenue for targeted drug delivery to tumors. Among these, liposomes, orb-like sacs composed of cholesterol and non-toxic phospholipids, have shown potential. While liposomal chemotherapies have demonstrated efficacy in treating cancer, their interaction with the immune system remains a complex puzzle. The leakiness of blood vessels around tumors allows these nanoparticles to enter the tumor, enhancing drug accumulation while sparing normal tissues.
Despite the success in improving safety profiles, the efficacy of liposomal therapies sometimes falls short of expectations. Dr. La-Beck’s preliminary data indicates that liposomal cholesterol undergoes metabolism into oxysterols, known to impact macrophage functions. These findings lead to the hypothesis that liposomal oxysterols may suppress antitumor immunity and promote tumor growth.
Dr. La-Beck’s research extends to understanding how nanoparticles, specifically liposomes, interact with the immune system. The immune response to liposomes, perceived as foreign pathogens, involves macrophages clearing these nanoparticles and presenting pathogen parts to T-cells. While some responses activate immune defenses against cancer cells, others may inadvertently stimulate molecules that suppress parts of the immune system and support tumor cell growth.
The grant will specifically focus on the cholesterol component of liposome delivery systems. Metabolizing cholesterol inappropriately can lead to various diseases, making it a critical aspect to explore. Dr. La-Beck emphasizes that while nanoparticle delivery systems hold immense therapeutic potential, understanding their impact on the immune system is crucial for fully exploiting their benefits. This grant represents a significant step towards unraveling the immune-nanoparticle interplay, offering new horizons in cancer drug delivery.