News / 21 September 2016

The Gaus research team has been working on an age-old question: How does nanoparticle shape affect the voyage through a cell? A new study led by EMBL’s Prof. Kat Gaus uncovered that nanoparticles shaped like rods and worms are more effective at moving to the center of a cell. The study, published in Nature Nanotechnology was conducted at the EMBL Partner Laboratory at the University of New South Wales. The team of researchers includes chemists, engineers and medical researchers working collaboratively on the project.

This amazing new discovery has been uncovered not only as a result of applying a new microscopy technique to gather information and data, but also from developing new analysis procedures using said new information and data.

The engineers in the research team were able to label four types of nanoparticles with fluorescent tags and incubate them in cancer cells, one shaped like a rod, one like a worm and two spherical ones. By combining fluorescence microscopy with statistical analysis the team created a clear picture of how these particles passed through the cells.

Dr Elizabeth Hinde, the lead author of this important paper explained that “this is the first time we have shown nanoparticles shaped like rods and worms are more effective than spherical nanoparticles at traversing intercellular barriers, allowing them to get all the way into the nucleus of the cell”. The potential impact in medicine of this discovery is profound, particularly concerning the design of drug delivery vehicles. Cancer treatment can be revolutionised.  These ultra-tiny particles can potentially carry drugs to where they are needed and help attack and kill cancer cells. Dr Hinde extrapolated, “if they are able to fine-tune the dimensions of these rod-shaped nanoparticles, so they can only pass through the cellular barriers in cancer cells, and not healthy ones, some of the side-effects of chemotherapy treatment can be reduced.” Dr Hinde went on to say, “now we have the ability to look into the cell and see what the particles are doing, we can design them to do exactly what we want them to do”.

For further information, contact Prof. Kat Gaus,