Advanced cell models and multifunctional nanomaterials for light-mediated cancer therapies

4 minute read

Cancer Cells crop

Wellcome Trust

This research is comprised of two distinct, but related projects. KU Leuven is the home institution for one project and the University of Melbourne will host the second.

Despite significant advances in cancer therapy over the past decades, cancer remains the number one cause of death worldwide. In the last years there has been increasing interest in the development of new treatment modalities with reduced side effects for difficult-to-cure cancers.

Two prominent examples are Photothermal Therapy (PTT) and Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

PTT is designed to selectively kill cancerous tissue in the body through localized, light-induced thermal stress and PDT is designed selectively kill cancerous tissue through localized, light-induced oxidative stress.

Both techniques rely on the development of nanomaterials and contribute a significant step forward in the therapy of cancers. Nanomaterials smaller than 200 nm accumulate in the tumour tissue and exhibit strong absorption in the near-infrared range, making them effective photothermal transducers with cancer-targeting capabilities.

Absorption in the near-infrared range also makes these namomaterials effective photogenerators of reactive oxygen species, such as singlet oxygen, that induce cell death.

However, despite their clinical promise, the relationship between nanoparticle size and surface chemistry, and the mechanism of both PDT and PTT remain an open question. These projects will investigate these issues using microscopy to monitor the mechanism (singlet oxygen generation in PDT and intracellular temperature in PTT) and cell death pathways simultaneously.

To mimic the physiological features present in solid tumours most accurately, multicellular tumour spheroids will be used.

The fabrication and characterisation of novel nanomaterials will also be a major part of this project, targeting nanosensors for mapping intracellular temperature, and gold-based stimuli-responsive nanocrystals with enhanced solid tumour penetration and efficient photothermal transduction for long-wavelength light.

The information obtained thereby will be crucial for the rational design of next-generation nanomaterials for targeted light and temperature-mediated cancer therapies.

KU Leuven-based project:

Project aims:

  • Develop new nanomaterials, to both induce and probe light-induced hyperthermia
  • Mapping intracellular temperature and cell death pathways during light irradiation.
  • Adjustment of treatment parameters to achieve the best therapeutic efficiency in solid tumours

Graduate researcher: Maria Bravo

Supervision team (Leuven)

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Assistant Professor Dr Susana Rocha (KU Leuven)
Professor Paul Mulvaney (The University of Melbourne)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Johan Hofkens (KU Leuven)
Dr James Hutchison (The University of Melbourne)

Melbourne-based project:

Project aims:

  • Synthesize novel lanthanide and TMD nanomaterials to investigate the mechanisms of their PDT effect in 3D cellular models of solid tumours
  • Single-cell resolution spatial mapping of singlet oxygen generation during photodynamic therapy of solid tumour mimics
  • Use near-IR detection to measure singlet oxygen directly

Graduate researcher: Samantha Zaman

Supervision team (Melbourne)

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Professor Paul Mulvaney (The University of Melbourne)
Assistant Professor Dr Susana Rocha (KU Leuven)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Dr James Hutchison (The University of Melbourne)
Professor Johan Hofkens (KU Leuven)

Other joint PhD projects