press information / news

Medical nanoparticles: local treatment of lung cancer

Neuherberg, Germany, 2 March 2015. Nanoparticles can function as carriers for medicines to combat lung cancer: Working in a joint project at the NIM (Nanosystems Initiative Munich) Excellence Cluster, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich have developed nanocarriers that site-selectively release medicines/drugs at the tumor site in human and mouse lungs. In the journal, 'ACS Nano', the scientists reported that this approach led to a significant increase in the effectiveness of current cancer medicines in lung tumour tissue.

Tumor tissue in the lung, Source: Sabine van Rijt, CPC/iLBD, Helmholtz Zentrum München

Nanoparticles are extremely small particles that can be modified for a variety of uses in the medical field. For example, nanoparticles can be engineered to be able to transport medicines specifically to the disease site while not interfering with healthy body parts.

Selective drug transport verified in human tissue for the first time

The Munich scientists have developed nanocarriers that only release the carried drugs in lung tumour areas. The team headed by Silke Meiners, Oliver Eickelberg and Sabine van Rijt from the Comprehensive Pneumology Center (HMGU), working with colleagues from the Chemistry Department (LMU) headed by Thomas Bein, were able to show nanoparticles' selective drug release to human lung tumour tissue for the first time.

Tumour specific proteins were used to release drugs from the nanocarriers

Tumour tissue in the lung contains high concentrations of certain proteases, which are enzymes that break down and cut specific proteins. The scientists took advantage of this by modifying the nanocarriers with a protective layer that only these proteases can break down, a process that then releases the drug. Protease concentrations in the healthy lung tissue are too low to cleave this protective layer and so the medicines stay protected in the nanocarrier.

"Using these nanocarriers we can very selectively release a drug such as a chemotherapeutic agent specifically at the lung tumour," reports research group leader Meiners. "We observed that the drug's effectiveness in the tumour tissue was 10 to 25 times greater compared to when the drugs were used on their own. At the same time, this approach also makes it possible to decrease the total dose of medicines and consequently to reduce undesirable effects."

Further studies will now be directed to examine the safety of the nanocarriers in vivo and verify the clinical efficacy in an advanced lung tumour mouse model.


Further Information

van Rijt, S. et al. (2015): Protease Mediated Release of Chemotherapeutics From Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles to Ex Vivo Human and Mouse Lung Tumors, ACS Nano. doi: 10.1021/nn5070343

Link to publication

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.

As one of Europe's leading research universities, LMU Munich is committed to the highest international standards of excellence in research and teaching. Building on its 500-year-tradition of scholarship, LMU covers a broad spectrum of disciplines, ranging from the humanities and cultural studies through law, economics and social studies to medicine and the sciences. 14 percent of LMU‘s 50,000 students come from abroad, originating from 125 countries worldwide. The know-how and creativity of LMU's academics form the foundation of the University's outstanding research record. This is also reflected in LMU‘s designation of as a "university of excellence" in the context of the Excellence Initiative, a nationwide competition to promote top-level university research.

The Comprehensive Pneumology Center (CPC) is a joint research project of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Clinic Complex and the Asklepios Fachkliniken München-Gauting. The CPC's objective is to conduct research on chronic lung diseases in order to develop new diagnosis and therapy strategies. The CPC maintains a focus on experimental pneumology with the investigation of cellular, molecular and immunological mechanisms involved in lung diseases. The CPC is a site of the Deutsches Zentrum für Lungenforschung (DZL).

The German Center for Lung Research (DZL) pools German expertise in the field of pulmonology research and clinical pulmonology. The association’s head office is in Giessen. The aim of the DZL is to find answers to open questions in research into lung diseases by adopting an innovative, integrated approach and thus to make a sizeable contribution to improving the prevention, diagnosis and individualized treatment of lung disease and to ensure optimum patient care.

The Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM) is one of the Clusters of Excellence which have been selected in 2006 by the German government's “Excellence Initiative”. The design and the control of artificial and multifunctional nanosystems are the keystones of the scientific program of the Cluster of Excellence which brings together more than 60 research groups from nanophysics, chemistry, and the life sciences.The integration of these functional nanosystems in complex and realistic surroundings is the central research aspect at NIM within its second funding phase of the Excellence Initiative. Artificial nanosystems have a wide range of potential applications in areas like medicine, information- and biotechnology, as well as in the efficient use of solar energy.


Scientifc contact at Helmholtz Zentrum München
PD Dr. Silke Meiners, Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Comprehensive Pneumoloy Center, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg - Phone: 089-3187-4673 -

Scientifc contact at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität
Prof. Dr. Thomas Bein, Department Chemie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Butenandtstr. 11, 81377 München, Phone: 089-2180-77621