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Improving the efficacy of cancer treatments with nanomaterials

A project at the ICMAB-CSIC in Barcelona is using nanomaterials to improve cancer treatment. The team, led by Gerard Tobias, has won funding from the European Research Council (ERC) to explore the commercial and societal potential of the research results.

Gerard Tobias, Esperanza Medina and Marina Llenas, members of the TARLIT project | ICMAB-CSIC When certain isotopes are irradiated with neutrons, it triggers a reaction that produces particles which can kill cancer cells with a very high therapeutic precision, thus limiting the destructive effects to a single cell. For this therapy to be successful, a sufficient number of active atoms in the neutrons must be delivered to the tumour. Although lithium is known to have nuclear reactions which are interesting for localised tumour eradication, research with this element has been severely limited by its chemistry.

Gerard Tobias, researcher at the Solid State Chemistry Group at ICMAB, has been granted with the ERC PoC for the project “Targeted nanohorns for lithium neutron capture therapy” (TARLIT). Within this project, he and his team will explore the use of lithium as a therapeutic option for neutron capture therapy (NCT), a form of radiotherapy that exploits the potential of some specific isotopes for cancer treatment.

“With TARLIT we aim to overcome such limitation by using nanoparticles as carrier and delivery vehicle. Nuclear reactions of lithium resultant from neutron irradiation produce high energetic particles that can significantly improve the efficiency of NCT in the eradication of cancer cells and tumors” explains Tobias.

Gerard Tobias was granted the ERC Consolidator Grant “Nanoengineering of radioactive seeds for cancer therapy and diagnosis” (NEST) in 2016. This project has allowed the group to develop a variety of nanoparticles to allow an early diagnosis and treatment of cancer. These nanoparticles are highly versatile and have allowed, for instance, to deliver lithium in an unprecedented manner to cancer cells, which will be the focus of this new ERC PoC TARLIT.

With this funding, the researcher will explore the commercial and societal potential of the results. European Research Council (ERC) projects are part of the EU's research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe.