Project

With our project we want to produce nanoparticles of the optimal shape, size, and composition for photothermal therapy, using synthetic biology.


Yearly, over 3000 patients in the Netherlands are diagnosed with head and neck cancer. The treatment of these cancers is very dependent upon the type and stage, but can come with severe consequences, such as toxic side-effects or (partial) loss of speech.

Photothermal therapy

A promising new treatment for head and neck cancers is photothermal therapy (PTT). In this therapy nanoparticles (NPs) are brought inside the body. The NPs are attached to antibodies specific to tumour cells, so that normal cells are left alone. Next, a near infrared light (NIR) laser is used to shine on the NPs, this creates heat which kills the cancer cells.

The best type of nanoparticle for PTT is made out of both silver and gold, and has a specific shape and size. Currently, these NPs have not been made chemically. The aim of our project is to produce optimal nanoparticles for use in PTT using synthetic biology, and thereby improve this cancer therapy.

To do this, we add three genes to a safe strain of the bacteria Escherichia coli
(E. coli). These genes code for proteins that improve metal reduction. First silver ions are added to the transformed bacteria, which produces silver nanoparticles. When gold ions are then added to the silver NPs, they react together to form the bimetallic nanoparticles. We make use of multiple techniques, such as UV-VIS and electron microscopy, to confirm that we have the right shape for cancer therapy.

Yearly, over 3000 patients in the Netherlands are diagnosed with head and neck cancer. The treatment of these cancers is very dependent upon the type and stage, but can come with severe consequences, such as toxic side-effects or (partial) loss of speech.

Photothermal therapy

A promising new treatment for head and neck cancers is photothermal therapy (PTT). In this therapy nanoparticles (NPs) are brought inside the body. The NPs are attached to antibodies specific to tumour cells, so that normal cells are left alone. Next, a near infrared light (NIR) laser is used to shine on the NPs, this creates heat which kills the cancer cells.

The best type of nanoparticle for PTT is made out of both silver and gold, and has a specific shape and size. Currently, these NPs have not been made chemically. The aim of our project is to produce optimal nanoparticles for use in PTT using synthetic biology, and thereby improve this cancer therapy.

To do this, we add three genes to a safe strain of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli). These genes code for proteins that improve metal reduction. First silver ions are added to the transformed bacteria, which produces silver nanoparticles. When gold ions are then added to the silver NPs, they react together to form the bimetallic nanoparticles. We make use of multiple techniques, such as UV-VIS and electron microscopy, to confirm that we have the right shape for cancer therapy.
Infographic about making bimetallic nanoparticles
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