Researchers at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a new drug delivery technique using biodegradable liquid metal nanodroplets to target cancer cells. According to Zhen Gu, assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program, “The advance here is that we have a drug delivery technique that may enhance the effectiveness of the drugs being delivered, can help doctors locate tumours, can be produced in bulk, and appears to be wholly biodegradable with very low toxicity.”
In this technique, 100-nm-diameter droplets of a liquid gallium-indium alloy are introduced into the bloodstream. One type of polymeric ligand binds the anticancer drug doxorubicin (Dox) to the droplets’ surface while a second type seeks out cancer cells and causes them to absorb the nanodroplets.
Inside the cells, higher acidity levels dissolve the nanodroplets’ oxidized skin, releasing the Dox along with gallium ions that enhance the drug’s performance. Without the oxidized skin, the nanodroplets fuse into larger drops that can be detected with diagnostic techniques, aiding in tumour detection. Because the metal degrades in this process, toxicity is minimized.