Supercharged ellipsoidal “rugby shaped” polymersomes show hope for booting children’s cancer
Press Release | June 1, 2020

A rugby ball-shaped nanoparticle supercharged with cancer-killing drugs could revolutionise the treatment of one of the most common brain tumours in children.

The microscopic nanoparticle will act like a targeted stealth bomber, directly attacking medulloblastoma tumours – in stark contrast to the current “carpet bombing” approach, which can have debilitating side-effects on the growing brain.

Developed by CI Professor Pall Thordarson and his colleagues at UNSW and UoM, the nanoparticle, which is as small as a virus, has been shown to target brain cancer cells specifically. “The difference is the shape. Most nanoparticles are shaped like a soccer ball but the ones shaped like a rugby ball can get into the tumour,” Prof Thordarson said.

The more common round nanoparticles are picked up by the immune system, which has been a significant barrier to the success of so-called nanomedicines to date.

“The immune system does a good job, it stops these particles and they don’t get through, but the rugby ball shape seems to sneak past,” Prof Thordarson said.

The nanoparticles are loaded with a peptide and, somewhat like in the cult 1960s movie Fantastic Voyage where humans were shrunk so they could enter a brain, they travel to the cancer tumours, bypassing healthy tissue.

The system works in the test tube, but now will be trialled in animals before human trials begin in an estimated five years. One in five childhood brain tumours are medulloblastomas and they mostly affect children between the ages of three and eight.


Cross node research published in Advanced Healthcare Materials: Modulating the Selectivity and Stealth Properties of Ellipsoidal Polymersomes through a Multivalent Peptide Ligand Display
News piece in the Sunday Telegraph, Sydney by Jane Hansen on 31st May 2020.