Zurich – Scientists at the University of Zurich have developed a chemical compound that allows drugs to be transported directly to the prostate in order to fight tumors in the gland. For this, they are making use of graphene nanoflakes.

A team headed up by Jason Holland from the University of Zurich (UZH) has collaborated with University College London for this research project, as outlined in a press release issued by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). The SNF has provided financial backing for the project, in which researchers are using graphene nanoflakes to transport drugs aimed at combating tumors directly to the prostate, where the drugs are then supposed to be released. Holland and his team have succeeded in placing these drugs inside molecules that have been attached to the graphene nanoflakes. These different molecules feature four different capacities: combating cancer effectively, detecting specific cancer cells, visible using medical imaging techniques and staying longer in the bloodstream.

“Our work demonstrates how to use the graphene nanoflakes as a universal delivery mechanism,” explains Jennifer Lamb, UZH researcher and first author of the study published in the publication “Chemical Science”. She adds: “They can be used as a scaffold onto which one can add customized components, a bit like Lego bricks”. This is possible because of the chemical structure of the graphene nanoflakes. Lamb explains that the edges are made of carboxyl groups, meaning that additional molecules can be attached here.

In studies with cultures of prostate cancer cells, it has already been empirically proven that the principle works. However, tests on live mice revealed that the compound dissipates too quickly. The dissipation of the compound could, however, be influenced by using adapted graphene structures. The scientists are now experimenting with antibodies instead of peptides, as these remains longer in the bloodstream.

“Our research is fundamental, and much more work will be needed to develop a new drug”, says project leader Jason Holland. However, the SNF press release explains that the results obtained so far have already opened “promising new avenues for oncological precision treatment as well as for theranostics”.

In addition to the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Cancer League, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding program and the Royal Society, a UK-based scientific organization, have all helped to fund the research activities.

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