The most common type of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), has a five-year survival rate of less than 10%. This deadly cancer is difficult to diagnose and treat in part because the tumors are very dense, preventing imaging dyes and medicines from reaching the cancerous cells packed inside. Now, researchers have demonstrated a nanotheranostic system for delivering fluorescent nanoparticles throughout these solid tumors that may offer new ways of identifying cancer and delivering targeted therapies
In proof-of-concept demonstrations, the engineered nanoparticles were activated by cancer’s acidic environment, penetrated the center of lab-made PDAC tumor models, and emitted strong fluorescence signals for high-resolution imaging of human PDAC tissue samples.
The researchers looked to theranostics technology—a combination of therapeutics and diagnostics—to get inside pancreatic tumors. They designed a fluorescent nanotheranostic system called TCM-U11&Cy@P. At the heart of the system is a compact aggregate of molecules, or micelle, consisting of a pH-sensitive copolymer that binds two fluorescing nanoparticles: a cyanine fluorophore (Cy) nanoparticle and a smaller aggregation-induced emission nanoparticle (AIE TCM). The latter is attached to a U11 peptide that targets receptors on PDAC cells.