Mind the Gap! Nanoparticles Increase Endothelial Leakiness

By Riya Gandhi ‘22

Figure 1. Metastasis occurs when cancer spreads to a different part of the body.

Although recent advancements in the field of nanomedicine are elucidating potential novel therapies for cancer, researchers have uncovered one major drawback called gap growth. Under the leadership of principal investigator Fei Peng, a recent study at the National University of Singapore discovered that the introduction of nanomaterial into animal bodies may result in micro-sized gaps in the endothelial lining, which can spur metastasis in cancer patients.

The researchers primarily focused on the effect of titanium dioxide, silica, and gold nanoparticles on interactions between VE-cadherin – a protein that maintains order at intercellular junctions and is especially important in endothelial cells – and adherens junctions. First, the scientists exposed the proteins to the nanoparticles through a dosage treatment and documented any changes at the end of approximately 30 minutes. They noticed that exposing titanium dioxide to the endothelial cells induced leakage and that increasing the dosage led to the creation of more gaps. Furthermore, when an analogous procedure was conducted on blood of mice, the researchers discovered that human breast cancer genes in the mice had spread more than had been anticipated. Ultimately, they deduced that the use of nanoparticles in cancer treatment may result in major drawbacks such as intravasation and extravasation. Extravasation occurs when IV drugs inadvertently leak into healthy tissue. Intravasation, the influx of cancer cells through lymphatic or blood vessels, may follow, thereby exacerbating metastasis of cancer.

Through this experiment, the scientists increased their understanding of the implications of nanomedicine. Although it is extremely important for the field of medicine to generate improved treatments for cancer patients, it is equally – if not more important – to ensure that these therapies are not inflicting excessive harm on healthy tissue within the body. Before such procedures are implemented in clinical medicine, nanoparticle leakage must be addressed and controlled.



  1. F. Peng, et. al., Nanoparticles promote in vivo breast cancer cell intravasation and extravasation by inducing endothelial leakiness. Nature Nanotechnology, (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41565-018-0356-z.  
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/light-streak-photography-of-city-street-1454253/

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