A new nanoparticle could help develop a solution for one of the most deadly forms of breast cancer. 

Created by a team of researchers at the Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Biology (CCRCB), the nanoparticle was combined with a drug that blocks a molecule called RAN to effectively treat triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

Building on research from 2014 that led to the drug’s creation, its combination with the new nanoparticle led to a reduction in growth rate and around two-thirds of TNBC cell death within 24 hours.

“The peptide prevents RAN from being activated but in its normal form it degrades quickly reducing its effectiveness,” said Dr Kyle Matchett from Queen’s CCRCB, and an author of the study. “This novel delivery mechanism of using a small capsule known as a nanoparticle allows the drug to directly target the cancer cells and increases its effect.”

The results are particularly promising considering TNBC’s reputation as a notoriously hard-to-treat form of the disease. Its name derives from the lack of oestrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor-2 receptors found on the cells of TNBC tumours – receptors that are targets for some of the most effective treatments currently available for breast cancer.

Current first-line therapy for TNBC includes an anthracycline chemotherapy such as doxorubicin or epirubicin, however, a standardised treatment regimen hasn’t yet been decided upon.

Angiogenesis inhibitors – drugs that prevent the formation of new blood vessels – and PARP inhibitors – drugs that inhibit the repair of DNA damage – have both shown promise as alternative therapies.

By targeting RAN – a protein linked to aggressive tumour growth, metastasis, therapy resistance, and poor prognosis when expressed in high levels – the new drug bypasses TNBC’s most challenging aspect in having no active targets for the latest breast cancer medicines.

The team are now looking to build supporting data for their new nanoparticle-based drug through further pre-clinical studies before moving onto clinical trials.