Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed an innovative treatment for breast cancer, based on analgesic nanoparticles that target the nervous system.

The researchers found that cancer cells stimulate infiltration of nerve cells into the tumor, and these cells then help the cancer cells proliferate, grow and migrate.

Based on these findings, they tried targeting the tumor through the nerve cells.

Nanoparticles containing an anesthetic are injected into the bloodstream. Once they reach the tumor, they accumulate around its nerve cells and paralyze the local nerves — and communication between the nerve cells and cancer cells.

When tested on cancer cell cultures and on lab mice, the method led to a significant inhibition of tumor development and of metastasis to the lungs, brain and bone marrow.

The study, published in Science Advances, was led by Prof. Avi Schroeder and chemical engineering PhD student Maya Kaduri.

Schroeder, head of the Louis Family Laboratory for Targeted Drug Delivery & Personalized Medicine Technologies, develops innovative cancer treatments, including for breast cancer and specifically for aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. He encapsulates drug molecules in nanoparticles, which transport the drug to the tumor and release it inside, without damaging healthy tissue.

Technion PhD student Maya Kaduri. Photo courtesy of Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Kaduri explained that blood vessels formed in tumors contain nano-sized holes that enable penetration of nanoparticles, while healthy tissue does not have such holes.

“We know how to create the exact size of particles needed, and that is critical because it’s the key to penetrating the tumor,” she said.

“The fact that this is a very focused and precise treatment enables us to insert significant amounts of anesthetic into the body because there is no fear that it will harm healthy and vital areas of the nervous system.”

The researchers believe the new approach may be relevant for treating breast cancer in humans.

The study was supported by the Rappaport Technion Integrated Cancer Center as part of the Steven & Beverly Rubenstein Charitable Foundation Fellowship Fund for Cancer Research, and by Teva, as part of its National Forum for BioInnovators. The research was conducted in cooperation with the Faculty of Medicine at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Institute of Pathology at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.