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New Nanoparticles Hold Promise for Radiopharmaceuticals Efficiency

Success story

Radiopharmaceuticals are medicines that contain small amounts of radioactive isotopes. They are used to diagnose and treat diseases, and need to be produced under carefully controlled conditions and tested for quality before being given to patients. (Photo: S. Slavchev/IAEA) 

Scientists working together through an IAEA Coordinated Research Project (CRP)  have developed two new nanoparticles that hold promise for a new generation of nanosized radiopharmaceuticals, which could dramatically improve early detection and therapy of various forms of cancers.

Radiopharmaceuticals – medical drugs containing radioactive isotopes – have been successfully applied for decades to diagnose and treat cancer, and recent developments in nanomedicine and nanotechnology could make these drugs even more efficient and safer, offering new horizons for cancer therapy.

The two new nanocarriers – nanoparticles able to transport substances such as radiopharmaceuticals in a patient’s body to specific tumor sites – are expected to enter the last stages of preclinical studies this year.

“Nanocarriers can integrate radiopharmaceuticals inside their structure, so that these are not easily accumulated in the unwanted organs of the patient on their way to tumor sites, thus avoiding unwanted side effects,” said Amir Jalilian, an IAEA radiopharmaceuticals specialist. Because their surface contains molecules that are specific to tumors, they only bind to these cells – and let the radiopharmaceuticals release their radiation at the right place, he added.

Such “nanoradiopharmaceuticals” can be more stable in blood circulation due to the strong bond formed between the radiopharmaceuticals and their carriers and increase safety for the patient by decreasing exposure to healthy tissue.

The Coordinated Research Project, titled Nanosized Delivery Systems for Radiopharmaceuticals (F22064),  involved scientists from 12 countries, who developed more than 40 new polymeric nanoparticles using chemical synthesis and/or radiation technology. The aim was to provide significant improvement in the delivery of therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals through the use of nanotechnology, for potential use in alleviating pain and suffering of patients globally. Radiation technology is one of the most effective and environment-friendly methods available to produce nanoconstructs.

The scientists experimented with different base structures, such as nanogels, proteins and inorganic nanoparticles, and different targeting agents, which can destroy various types of cancers.   

“Nanoparticle radioactive probes in combination with polymeric nanomaterials have a realistic potential to be the next generation tumor-specific theranostic radiopharmaceuticals, which minimize or eliminate unwanted radioactivity accumulation in the healthy tissues, a problem associated with existing traditional nuclear medicine agents which is associated with almost all radiopharmaceuticals,” said Jalilian.

The findings of the CRP were published throughout the duration of the project, in 76 scientific journals. Read more about the CRP and its specific objectives here.

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