Soon, drug delivery that precisely targets cancerous cells without exposing the healthy surrounding tissue to the medication’s toxic effects will no longer be an oncologist’s dream but a medical reality, thanks to the work of Professor Sylvain Martel, Director of the Nanorobotics Laboratory at Polytechnique Montréal.
Known for being the world’s first researcher to have guided a magnetic sphere through a living artery, Professor Martel is announcing a spectacular new breakthrough in the field of nanomedicine. Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, his team successfully guided microcarriers loaded with a dose of anti-cancer drug through the bloodstream of a living rabbit, right up to a targeted area in the liver, where the drug was successfully administered. This is a medical first that will help improve chemoembolization, a current treatment for liver cancer.
Microcarriers on a mission
The therapeutic magnetic microcarriers (TMMCs) were developed by Pierre Pouponneau, a PhD candidate under the joint direction of Professors Jean-Christophe Leroux and Martel. These tiny drug-delivery agents, made from biodegradable polymer and measuring 50 micrometers in diameter — just under the breadth of a hair — encapsulate a dose of a therapeutic agent (in this case, doxorubicin) as well as magnetic nanoparticles. Essentially tiny magnets, the nanoparticles are what allow the upgraded MRI system to guide the microcarriers through the blood vessels to the targeted organ. During the experiments, the TMMCs injected into the bloodstream were guided through the hepatic artery to the targeted part of the liver where the drug was progressively released. The results of these in-vivo experiments have recently been published in the prestigious journal Biomaterials and the patent describing this technology has just been issued in the United States.
The Nanorobotics Laboratory, which aims to develop new platforms for medical intervention, works closely with interventional radiologist Dr. Gilles Soulez and his team of the Imaging Research Platform at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal Research Centre to develop medical protocols adapted for future use on humans.
Dr. Martel and his team receive financial support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canada Research Chair (CRC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies (FQRNT) and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).