Discovery Files

Researchers design treatment to protect bones during cancer therapy

Novel nanoparticle could help cancer patients at risk for bone damage from radiation treatment

Approximately 50% of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy — a treatment that uses electrically charged particles to kill cancer cells. Although radiotherapy beams are aimed directly at the tumor, surrounding healthy tissue can be damaged. Bone damage, for example, affects about 75% of patients receiving radiation.

Now, University of Central Florida materials science engineers Melanie Coathup and Sudipta Seal have designed an artificial enzyme, a cerium oxide nanoparticle, that protects bones against damage from radiation. The enzyme has also shown abilities to improve bone regeneration, reduce loss of blood cells and help kill cancer cells.

Their study, a collaboration with Oakland University, North Carolina A&T University, the University of Sheffield and University of Huddersfield, is published in Bioactive Materials. The U.S. National Science Foundation provided support for the research with two awards through its Major Research Instrumentation Program.

The body's natural defense against radiation is a group of enzymes called antioxidants, but this defense system gets easily overwhelmed by radiation and on its own cannot protect the body from damage. Seal designed the nanoparticle, which mimics the activity of these antioxidants and has a stronger defense mechanism in protecting cells against DNA damage.

The study also showed that the treatment helped kill cancer cells, possibly due to an increase in acidity, and protected against the loss of white and red blood cells. A low white and red blood cell count means the patient is more susceptible to opportunistic infection, less able to fight cancer, and is more fatigued. Another finding is that the nanoparticle enhanced healthy cells' ability to produce more antioxidants, reduced inflammation, and promoted bone formation.

Future research will seek to determine appropriate dosage and administration of the nanoparticle and further explore how it helps to kill cancer cells. The researchers will focus their studies in the context of breast cancer, as women are more susceptible to bone damage than men.