Efficient radiation therapy thanks to nanoparticles

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Making nanoparticles visible for cancer therapy: Empa Young Scientist Fellow Luk

Making nanoparticles visible for cancer therapy: Empa Young Scientist Fellow Lukas Gerken cools an electron microscope with liquid nitrogen. Image: Empa

Lukas Gerken has been awarded an Empa Young Scientist Fellowship for his research project to make radiation therapy for cancer patients more effective and at the same time gentler. The young Empa researcher is being supported by the Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation.

Empa researcher Lukas Gerken from Empa’s Particles-Biology Interactions laboratory in St. Gallen and the Nanoparticle Systems Engineering laboratory at ETH Zurich is already using specially developed metal oxide nanoparticles in laboratory experiments to increase the sensitivity of tumors during radiation therapy. Now the young talent wants to equip the nanoparticles with further properties for increased effectiveness. He is being supported in this endeavor through an Empa Young Scientist Fellowship funded by the Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation.

Confident young researcher

Radiotherapy is one of the cornerstones of cancer treatment. However, some types of tumors have little to no response to radiation. Gerken’s project is based on metal oxide nanoparticles used as "radiosensitizers." He had already demonstrated the effectiveness of the nanoparticles in laboratory experiments in preliminary work in Inge Hermann’s team at Empa and ETH Zurich. Likewise, the researcher had established a manufacturing process using flame synthesis, paving the way for industrial production.

Now Lukas Gerken has set out to further increase the activity of the nanoparticles so that they supply the tumor tissue with oxygen, which further increases their sensitivity to irradiation. Other properties of the radiosensitizers are to be enhanced so that more cancer cells die during treatment. The results thus far are encouraging. Gerken: "We will continue to pursue this promising avenue to explore the nanoparticles’ mechanism of action and specifically optimize their efficiency." He hopes that his new findings will advance the clinical application of nanoparticles in radiation therapy in the future.

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