Published on 23 Sep 2020

'Trojan horse' approach kills cancer cells without using drugs

The new method involves coating silica nanoparticles with an amino acid to trick cancer cells into accepting them


Researchers from NTU have developed a treatment for cancer that does not involve drugs. The treatment, which is still in the early stages of being tested, involves a nanoparticle coated in an amino acid called L-phenylalanine. The chemical is not naturally produced in the body but is instead absorbed from meat and dairy produce that humans consume.

Once the coated particle, named “Nano-pPAAM” by the researchers, enters the cancer cell, it stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species which cause cancer cells to self-destruct.

Assistant Professor Dalton Tay from the School of Materials Science and Engineering, who led the study, described this method as a “Trojan horse” approach. 

"Against conventional wisdom, our approach involved using the nanomaterial as a drug instead as a drug-carrier. Here, the cancer-selective and killing properties of Nano-pPAAM are intrinsic and do not need to be 'activated' by any external stimuli. The amino acid L-phenylalanine acts as a 'trojan horse' – a cloak to mask the nanotherapeutic on the inside."

"By removing the drug component, we have effectively simplified the nanomedicine formulation and may overcome the numerous technological hurdles that are hindering the bench-to-bedside translation of drug-based nanomedicine."

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