Using corn to make nanoparticles that target tumors in mice

Conventional nanoparticles have shown potential in various therapeutic areas, but their complicated, expensive manufacturing can muddy the path to mass therapeutic production. Now, researchers say they've delivered a corn-derived nanoparticle that produces anti-tumor activity in mice, potentially paving the way for new cancer treatments.

Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science created a homogenous mixture of sweet corn and then centrifuged it to filter out nanoparticles, which are between one and 100 nanometers in size. The team focused on corn, or maize, because the food staple is produced in mass quantities around the world in both native and genetically modified forms.

To determine whether the corn-derived nanoparticles affected tumors in mice, the researchers looked to see which types of cells took up the nanoparticles. Among them were colon26 tumor cells, NIH3T3 cells and RAW264.7 macrophage-like cells, which are used to screen immunomodulators in test tube experiments.

The nanoparticles “significantly inhibited” growth of the colon26 cells, which is a sign the corn-derived nanoparticles are selective for carcinogenic cell lines, the Tokyo University of Science researchers said in Scientific Reports. They also sparked the release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or TNF-alpha, which is typically secreted by macrophages, natural killer cells and lymphocytes, three crucial players in anti-cancer responses.

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"The strong TNF-alpha response was encouraging and indicated the role of cNPs in treating various types of cancer,” said Daisuke Sasaki, Ph.D., first author of the study and a researcher at Tokyo University of Science, in a statement.

The corn-derived nanoparticles, when combined with RAW264.7 cells, “significantly suppressed” the spread of colon26 cells. When injected into colon26 tumors in mice on a daily basis, the nanoparticles tamped down tumor growth without leading to weight loss or other serious side effects, the researchers said.

Nanoparticles have been crucial in development of vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both deployed lipid nanoparticles to deliver their vaccines. 

Pfizer inked a collaboration with Acuitas Therapeutics for use of the biotech's lipid nanoparticles for up to 10 targets across therapeutics and vaccines last month. Meanwhile, Moderna will combine its lipid nanoparticle delivery tech with Carisma Therapeutics' engineered macrophage biology to create treatments for up to 12 targets in a $45 million oncology research tie-up.