Machine can unboil an egg and make targeted cancer drugs

By / 22nd of May, 2015

LIKE an innovative science infomercial – but wait, there’s more! – a new tool developed by a scientist in South Australia is turning out to have practical uses in many industries, including the production of cancer drugs.

The vortex fluidic device -- which achieved international attention for its capacity to ‘unboil’ an egg -- has now been used to create miniature packages of anti-cancer drugs for targeted treatment.

Professor Colin Raston, the South Australian Premier's Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology at Flinders University, has created the device and has been working with collaborators in Australia and the United States to develop the new applications.

"We found that this technology can increase the loading of second generation anti-cancer carboplatin drugs into delivery vehicles from 17 per cent to 75 per cent," said Professor Raston.

"This not only would have a direct benefit of reducing the negative side-effects which affect patient health, but of being able to use less of the drug."

The delivery vehicles are known as nanoparticles, and are 100 nanometres in diametre – the size of one millimetre divided into 10,000 parts.

“We’ve shown in laboratory experiments that by having the drug in the nanoparticle multiplies its efficacy in killing cancer cells by around four to five times,” said Professor Raston

Director of the Sansom Institute for Health Research at the University of South Australia, Professor Ian Olver – who was not involved in the research – said that developing new, targeted approaches for cancer therapy was important.

“Carboplatins are used to treat many types of cancer, including bladder, lung, testicular, ovarian and some breast cancers,” said Professor Olver, who is a cancer specialist.

“When you put drugs like this inside nanoparticles you can target treatment to the tumour by delivering higher doses more locally,” he said. “This reduces the impact of side effects that come with systemic delivery.”

Although the use of nanoparticles in medicine has only been theoretical, Professor Olver said that in reality we are getting closer and closer to seeing them incorporated into clinical practice. 

“We’re probably only talking about being a few years rather than decades away from using this kind of technology now,” he said.

The vortex fluidic device used to manufacture the carboplatin-loaded nanoparticles is a suitcase-sized piece of equipment that applies very high sheer forces to liquids fed into the system through spinning a tube at high velocity.

“It’s the application of the sheer forces that allows you to pack extra drug molecules into each nanoparticle,” said its inventor Professor Raston.

The vortex fluidic device is also displaying potential to be used a tool for manufacture of other drugs, and in the production of biofuels.

“It’s a stunningly simple approach to apply sheer forces to reorganize matter in a controlled way,” said Professor Raston.  “The device is turning out to have myriad applications, it’s beyond my wildest dreams.” 

Key contacts

Professor Colin Raston Premier's Professorial Research Fellow Flinders University
08 8201 7958