UMN researchers attacking cancer cells with nanotechnology

University of Minnesota researchers are working to implement clinical trials, with the goal of someday marketing the nanotechnology as a drug.

Amie Stager

Researchers in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry are utilizing nanotechnology as an immunotherapy method to help eradicate cancer cells.

Having successfully eradicated tumors in mice through nanoring therpay, researchers are currently in discussion with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about pursuing human trials with the goal of someday marketing it as a drug.

Nanoring therapy method reactivates the immune system to target and kill tumor cells by implementing nanoscopic-sized rings to modify the user’s T cells.

“Everybody [on the team] has the same goal of contributing to improving patient outcomes,” said Cliff Csizmar, a Ph.D. candidate and member of the research team

But researchers did not initially start out working on the topic, said Dr. Carston Wagner, a medicinal chemistry professor and team lead for the University’s research.

Researchers say they discovered that self-assembling nanorings were highly stable. By attaching these nanorings to molecules that could target a cell’s surface, team members found they could potentially help in the attack of cancerous cells.

“We can harness the body’s innate ability to want to go after and kill tumor cells by helping it along with our nanotechnology,” Wagner said.

Wagner said nanoring therapy was able to eradicate tumors within mice after two weeks, although they haven’t starting testing on humans.

“[This research] is a simplified immunotherapy that can be broadly applicable,” said recent Ph.D. graduate Jacob Petersburg, who now works for Wagner’s startup company Tychon Biosciences LLC. “When the therapy’s done, there’s nothing that’s still affecting [the patient] long-term.”

Unlike other methods used to kill tumor cells, like genetic modification, nanoring therapy does not carry long-term risks, Petersburg said. 

“It is such a small therapy. No one else is thinking about this,” Petersburg said. 

There may be potential side effects in this therapy, Wagner said. However, researchers found they can administer the FDA approved drug Trimethoprim to reverse effects and remove nanorings from T cells, eliminating long-term impacts.