Combining two strategies designed to improve the results of cancer treatment - antiangiogenesis drugs and nanomedicines - may only be successful if the smallest nanomedicines are used. A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers, appearing in Nature Nanotechnology, finds that normalizing blood vessels within tumors, which improves the delivery of standard chemotherapy drugs, can block the delivery of larger nanotherapy molecules.
"We found that vascular normalization only increases the delivery of the smallest nanomedicines to cancer cells," says Vikash P. Chauhan, of the Steele Laboratory of Tumor Biology in the MGH Radiation Oncology Department, lead author of the report. "We also showed that the smallest nanomedicines are inherently better than larger nanomedicines at penetrating tumors, suggesting that smaller nanomedicines may be ideal for cancer therapy."
Tumors need to generate their own blood supply to continue growing, but vessels supplying tumors tend to be disorganized, oversized and leaky. Not only does this prevent the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to cells not close to tumor vessels, but the leakage of plasma out of blood vessels increases pressure within the tumor, further reducing the ability of drugs to penetrate tumors. Treatment with drugs that inhibit angiogenesis - the process by which new vessels are generated - reduces some of these abnormalities, a process called vascular normalization that has been shown to improve treatment of some cancers with standard chemotherapy drugs.
Nanomedicines are actually designed to exploit tumor vessel abnormality. While the molecules of standard chemotherapy drugs are about one nanometer - a billionth of a meter - nanomedicine molecules are from 10 to 100 times larger, too large to penetrate the pores of blood vessels in normal tissues but small enough to pass through the oversized pores of tumor vessels. Since the size of nanomedicines should keep them out of normal tissues, they are prescribed to reduce the negative side effects of chemotherapy.
The current study was designed to investigate whether the use of antiangiogenesis drugs to normalize tumor vasculature would improve or impede delivery of nanomedicines to tumor cells. In studies using a mouse model of breast cancer, the investigators first confirmed that treatment with DC101, an antibody to a molecule essential to blood vessel growth, temporarily decreased the diameter of enlarged tumor blood vessels. They then showed that this vascular normalization improved the penetration into tumors of 12-nanometer particles but not of 60- or 125-nanometer molecules.