Research Holds Promise for Improved Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

A technique for using radiosensitizers and image-guided radiotherapy holds promise for the treatment of ovarian cancer, one of the most deadly cancers affecting women today. 

Nanoparticles target tumors in peritoneal cavity.

Gold Decorated Dendritic Mesoporous Silica/Tantalum Oxide Nanoparticles target tumors in the peritoneal cavity.

The cover article in April’s Journal Particle & Particle Systems Characterization was co-authored by Xiuling Lu, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Titled “Engineering Multifunctional Gold Decorated Dendritic Mesoporous Silica/Tantalum Oxide Nanoparticles for Intraperitoneal Tumor-Specific Delivery” the article describes promising work being done by Lu and her fellow researchers.

Lu’s lab has developed a radio-dense nanosystem composed of a tantalum oxide core and a gold decorated dendritic mesoporous silica shell. The silica nanoparticle is a versatile structure for carrying various entities specifically to tumors in the peritoneal cavity.

Cover of the April 2019 Issue of the journal Particle & Particle Systems Characterization
The cover story of the April 2019 issue of the Journal Particle and Particle Systems Characterization is co-authored by Associate Professor Xiuling Lu in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

These nanoparticles target peritoneal metastases, exhibit strong contrast on computerized tomography (CT) images, and can potentially serve as radiosensitizers – making cancer cells more sensitive to radiation — for radiation therapy. The combination of tantalum and gold was chosen to achieve an enhanced CT contrast and radio sensitizing effect.

In the article, researchers explain that peritoneal cancers are a family of cancers, including ovarian cancer, that originate in the peritoneal cavity and are responsible for approximately 250,000 new cases of cancer in the U.S. every year.

Although ovarian cancer is relatively rare – The American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the United States for 2019 are about 22,530 new diagnoses and approximately 14,000 deaths from the disease — it ranks fifth in all cancer deaths among women and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.

Because symptoms may be vague, it is not uncommon for a diagnosis of ovarian cancer to occur after the cancer has metastasized.

Treatment at this stage traditionally involves debulking, or the reduction of as much of the volume of a tumor as possible, followed by nonspecific high-energy chemotherapy. Many patients develop recurrences after debulking surgery, and response to a frequent platinum-based chemotherapy is limited due to the development of resistance to the drug over time. Further, although ovarian cancer cells are very radiosensitive, external radiation therapy is limited because indiscriminate delivery of high doses to normal cells may lead to severe toxicity. This is why Lu’s research is so significant.

Xiuling Lu, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics in the department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Xiuling Lu, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. (Sheila Foran/UConn Photo)

She says, “The technology described in the publication evolved from previous work on theranostic neutron-activated mesoporous silica nanoparticles that functioned to deliver therapeutic doses of internal radiation and also allowed external imaging of their path of travel by single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). “

Lu explains that the  translation of theranostic nanoparticle systems to the clinical level is promising because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been approving new diagnostic and radiotherapeutic agents at a greater pace than in the past. Also, the nanoparticle-based agents have been treated by the FDA as devices as opposed to drugs, thus shortening the path to approval and eventual introduction to the marketplace.

She adds, “The growing market for theranostic agents is also leading to greater enthusiasm in the investment community, which is of great consequence as this research eventually moves to clinical trials and direct patient treatment. The future looks bright.”