Uptake, distribution and radio-enhancement effects of gold nanoparticles in tumor microtissues†
Radiotherapy is an integral and highly effective part of cancer therapy, applicable in over 50% of patients affected by cancer. Due to the low specificity of the X-ray irradiation, the maximal radiation dose is greatly limited in order to avoid damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The limitations in applicable dose oftentimes result in the survival of a subpopulation of radio-resistant cells that then cause cancer reoccurence. Approaches based on tumor-targeted high atomic number inorganic nanoparticles have been proposed to locally increase the photoelectric absorption cross-section of tumors relative to healthy tissue. However, the complex interplay between the nanoparticle radio-enhancers and the tumor tissue has led to poor translation of in vitro findings to (pre)clinics. Here, we report the development of a tumor microtissue model along with analytical imaging for the quantitative assessment of nanoparticle-based radio-enhancement as a function of nanoparticle size, uptake and intratissural distribution. The advanced in vitro model exhibits key features of cancerous tissues, including diminished susceptibility to drugs and attenuated response to nanoparticle treatment compared to corresponding conventional 2D cell cultures. Whereas radio-enhancement effects between 2D and 3D cell cultures were comparable for 5 nm gold particles, the limited penetration of 50 nm gold nanoparticles into 3D microtissues led to a significantly reduced radio-enhancement effect in 3D compared to 2D. Taken together, tumor microtissues, which in stark contrast to 2D cell culture exhibit tissue-like features, may provide a valuable high-throughput intermediate pre-selection step in the preclinical translation of nanoparticle-based radio-enhancement therapy designs.