A team of scientists from Rice University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas have discovered a new way to destroy cancer cells. The method involves stimulating aminocyanine molecules with near-infrared light, causing synchronized vibrations that destroy cancer cell membranes.
The description and results of the research were published in the journal “Nature Chemistry” (DOI: 10.1038/s41557-023-01383-y).
Pneumatic molecular hammers
Aminocyanine is a synthetic fluorescent dye used in medical imaging to detect cancer. It is stable in water and adheres well to the outside of cells. “These are simple pigments that people have been using for a long time,” says Cicero Ayala Orozco of Rice University, lead author of the study. – It is biocompatible, stable in water and adheres well to the outer lipid lining of cells. Although they are used in imaging, we don't know how to activate them as plasmons yet, he adds.
“This is a whole new generation of molecular machines that we call molecular jackhammers,” says chemist James Tur of Rice University. “It is a million times faster in its mechanical movement than previous Feringa engines, and can be activated using near-infrared light instead of visible light,” he adds. The aforementioned Feringa engines are a previously developed type of molecular machine that kills cancer cells by breaking down their structure.
The use of near infrared light is extremely important. It allows scientists to penetrate deeper into the body. This means that it will be possible to treat bone or other organ cancer without the need for surgery.
Tur points out that “near-infrared rays can penetrate the human body to a depth of 10 centimeters, compared to the penetration depth of visible light, which is only half a centimeter.”
99 percent effectiveness
In tests on cancer cells grown in the laboratory, the molecular jackhammer method showed a 99% success rate. Its effectiveness in destroying cancer cells. This approach was also tested in mice with melanoma. After treatment, approximately half of the animals recovered.
The structure and properties of aminocyanine molecules are such that they remain in sync with the stimulus, such as near-infrared light. During motion, electrons inside molecules create so-called plasmons, which are collectively vibrating units that drive motion throughout the molecule.
— Due to their chemical structure and properties, the nuclei of these molecules can oscillate synchronously under the influence of the appropriate stimulus. We used it as a form of therapy. The molecular plasmons we have identified have a nearly symmetrical structure with a distinct “shoulder” on one side. This “arm” is not involved in plasmonic motion, but helps anchor the molecule to the fat cell membrane, Ayala Orozco explains.
– This is the first time that a molecular plasmon has been used in this way to excite an entire molecule and create mechanical action to achieve a specific goal – in this case, disrupting the membrane of cancer cells. Ayala Orozco emphasizes that this study looks at a different way to treat cancer using mechanical forces at the molecular level.
The research is still in its early stages, but initial results are very promising. The developed method is a type of simple biomechanical technology that would be difficult for cancer cells to develop a blockade on. Scientists are also looking into other types of molecules that could be used in a similar way.
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