Trabolsi Lab Wins Grant for Nanopartical Research

The Trabolsi Research Group at NYU Abu Dhabi received a grant from the Al Jalila Foundation that will support two years of research on a system that may improve the effectiveness of a commonly used anti-cancer drug. Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ali Trabolsi leads the group.

Potent chemicals have long been used to fight cancer. These drugs are a vital mode of treatment, but they have a major drawback: they kill both healthy and cancerous cells, and patients who undergo chemotherapy experience serious side effects, such as hair loss and nausea.

The magnetic nanoparticles Trabolsi and his team have developed can be used to deliver drugs and monitor the progression of disease — a "theranostic system," since they can be used for both diagnosis and treatment.

The system may help doctors directly target cancer cells, thus increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy and avoiding damage to healthy cells.

The nanoparticles act as "containers" for the popular anti-cancer drug cisplatin. "By using the loaded system, that is, the nanoparticle along with cisplatin, we may be able to decrease the amount of the drug needed to kill cancer cells," Trabolsi said.

Efficacy is increased in two ways. The loaded system is more easily absorbed by cancer cells than is the drug alone. The system also releases cisplatin at a higher rate in cancer cells than in healthy cells, since cancer cells are slightly more acidic.

Moreover, the nanoparticle is magnetic, and can be directed to areas of the body that are affected by cancer, limiting trauma caused by the drug to other areas of the body. "We hope that the release of the drug won't be triggered everywhere, only when it's in the tumor," said Farah Benyettou, a Postdoctoral Associate in Trabolsi's lab and a key researcher on the project.

Benyettou and Trabolsi hold great hope for the potential use of the system since it dramatically increases the efficacy of cisplatin. "Instead of having one molecule of the drug entering the cell, it's like having 30 entering the cell at the same time," Benyettou said.

The group has conducted a study in which they introduced the loaded system to cancer cells. They plan to publish the results soon, and also conduct a study using the nanoparticle in vivo.

Al Jalila Foundation is a not-for-profit organization established by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in November 2012 to support medical treatment, education and research.