Nanomaterials have revolutionized the world of cancer therapy, and plant-derived nanoparticles have the added benefit of being cost-effective and easy to mass-produce. Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have recently developed new corn-derived bionanoparticles to directly target cancer cells, via an immune mechanism. The results are encouraging and the technique has demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of tumor-bearing laboratory mice. Additionally, no serious adverse effects have been reported in mice so far.
Nanoparticles, or particles ranging in size from 1 to 100 nanometers, have shown enormous potential in many areas of science and technology, including therapeutics. However, conventional synthetic nanoparticles are complicated and expensive to produce. Extracellular vesicles (EVs), which have emerged as an alternative to synthetic nanoparticles, present challenges for mass production.
Another recently emerging option is plant-derived nanoparticles (NPs), which can be easily produced at high levels at relatively lower costs. Like electric vehicles, these nanoparticle-based systems also contain bioactive molecules, including polyphenols (which are known antioxidants) and microRNAs, and they can deliver drugs to target organs in our bodies.
Leveraging this knowledge, researchers at Tokyo University of Science (TUS) have recently developed bionanoparticles with anti-cancer activity, using maize (maize) as a raw material.
Professor Makiya Nishikawa of Tokyo University of Science, Japan, who led the research team in this endeavor, explains, “By controlling the physicochemical properties of nanoparticles, we can control their pharmacokinetics in the body; thus, we wanted to explore the nanoparticulation of edible plants. Maize, or maize, is produced in large quantities around the world in its native form as well as in its genetically modified forms. This is why we selected it for our study. The results of this study were published online on November 24, 2021 in Scientific reports.
The team created a homogeneous mixture of super sweet corn in water, then centrifuged this corn juice at high speed, then filtered it through a syringe filter with a pore size of 0.45 μm . The filtered samples were then ultracentrifuged to obtain maize-derived NPs. Maize-derived NPs (cNPs) were approximately 80 nm in diameter. Interestingly, these cNPs also carried a tiny net negative charge of -17 mV.
The research team then set up experiments to see if these cNPs were taken up by different cell types. In a series of promising results, cNPs were taken up by several cell types, including clinically relevant colon26 tumor cells (mouse-derived cancer cells), RAW264.7 macrophage-like cells, and normal NIH3T3 cells. RAW264.7 cells are commonly used as in vitro screens for immunomodulators, drugs that primarily target various cancer pathways.
The results were astonishing: of the three cell types, cNPs only significantly inhibited the growth of colon cells26, indicating their selectivity for carcinogenic cell lines. Moreover, cNPs were able to successfully induce the release of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) from RAW264.7 cells. It is a well-documented fact that TNFα is primarily secreted by macrophages, natural killer cells and lymphocytes, three key ingredients in our highly evolved immune system and which help mount an anti-cancer response. “The strong TNFα response was encouraging and indicated the role of cNPs in the treatment of various types of cancer,” explains Dr. Daisuke Sasaki, first author of the study and an instructor and researcher at TUS.
The research team then performed a reporter assay with the enzyme “luciferase” (derived from fireflies), which is a sensitive reporter to study various biological responses. This luciferase-based assay revealed that the potent combination of cNP and RAW264.7 cells significantly suppressed colon26 cell proliferation. Finally, the research team studied the effect of cNPs on laboratory mice with subcutaneous tumours. Again, the results were amazing: daily injection of cNPs into colon tumors26 significantly suppressed tumor growth, without causing serious side effects or weight loss.
“By optimizing the properties of nanoparticles and combining them with anticancer drugs, we hope to design safe and effective drugs for various cancers,” observes an optimistic professor Nishikawa.
Summarizing these impactful findings, Dr. Kosuke Kusamori, co-author and Assistant Professor at TUS says: “These cNPs show excellent anti-tumor properties, are easy to grow and are economically viable. Moreover, they do not show serious adverse effects, at least in mice so far!”
Indeed, this could be the cancer therapy of tomorrow; TUS has made a truly amazing discovery!
Reference: Sasaki D, Kusamori K, Takayama Y, Itakura S, Todo H, Nishikawa M. Development of maize-derived nanoparticles as mass-producible bionanoparticles with anticancer activity. Scientific representative. 2021;11(1):22818. do I: 10.1038/s41598-021-02241-y
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