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NYU Abu Dhabi researchers synthesise gold nanoparticles capable of attacking cancer cells

The unique design of gold nanoparticles reduces the side effects of the drugs, potentially improving patients’ quality of life.

A team of NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) researchers have developed a new, one-pot synthetic approach to obtain water-stable and “ready to use” gold nanoparticles that can be heated with a simple green laser, improving the gold nanoparticles’ ability to penetrate and destroy malignant cells through hyperthermia and simultaneously releasing chemotherapeutic drugs. The unique design of these nanoparticles reduces the side effects of the drugs, potentially improving patients’ quality of life.

In the paper titled Aqueous Synthesis of Triphenylphosphine-Modified Gold Nanoparticles for Synergistic In Vitro and In Vivo Photo-thermal Chemotherapy, published in Chemistry-A European Journal, NYUAD Research Scientist Farah Benyettou and Associate Professor of Chemistry Ali Trabolsi, in collaboration with Professor of Biology Kirsten Sadler, presented the process of creating triphenylphosphine-functionalised gold nanoparticles by simply heating a solution of the triphenylphosphine gold (I) chloride salt in water under microwave irradiations.

How do gold nanoparticles work?

Biocompatible gold nanoparticles coated on the surface with triphenylphosphine molecules penetrate cancerous cells in preference. By combining the nanoparticles with heat, the researchers found a dramatically improved cell killing compared with heat or the nanoparticles alone. Combined therapies, and consequently improved cancerous cell killing, were achieved when cancer cells were irradiated with a green laser.

Since nanoparticles are constrained to the area of the cancerous tissue, the heat produced by absorbed laser energy causes the localised temperature to rise and release the drug that kills the cancer cells without damaging the surroundings. Therefore, nanoparticles are actually heating agents and drug delivery systems. The drug-coated particles manifested strong potential to act as an antimetastatic agent by inhibiting adhesion and invasion of cancer cells.

Speaking to Omnia Health Insights, Prof. Trabolsi explained that gold therapy (also called chrysotherapy) has always been the interest of physicians since the earliest days of civilisation. Gold and gold compounds were used in drugs for a wide range of diseases.

“In the last few decades, gold complexes and gold nanoparticles attracted significant attention as potential cancer treatments. In particular, phosphine gold complexes and phosphine-stabilised gold nanoparticles showed excellent anti-tumour activities. However, the synthesis of phosphine-supported gold nanoparticles has always been cumbersome, which limited advancements towards clinical trials,” he adds.

One-pot synthetic strategy

In the NYUAD research programme, to develop effective drug delivery systems for anticancer treatment, the research team developed a one-pot synthetic strategy that led to water stable and “ready-to-use” phosphine-supported gold nanoparticles for combined chemotherapy and hyperthermia.

The project started as the Capstone project of an undergraduate student in the Trabolsi Group at NYUAD and continued to be developed for the last three years.

“After completion of the first stage that included the synthesis and in vitro and in vivo (Zebrafish) testing of our material, we are looking to take a step forward and test our system in mice,” says Trabolsi.  “Additionally, we are working on extending our approach to other phosphine-gold complexes in order to generalise our synthetic strategy."

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