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Targeting copper to beat cancer

Invention Number: 
Copper nanoparticles delivering drugs to kill cancer cells and reduce side effects

The Technology 

Copper levels are significantly elevated in a wide range of tumours and cancer cells.  

UNSW researchers have developed novel ‘copper’ nanoparticles to deliver drugs directly to the cancer cells. Changing the metabolism of copper in cancer cells represents a strategic way to kill cancer cells.

As cancer cells need high concentrations of copper to support their growth, the copper nanoparticles can easily enter inside the cancer cells as a ‘Trojan Horse’ and deliver anti-cancer drugs.  

Recent clinical trials have used copper chelation agents which diliberately deplete natural reserves of the essential mineral copper for the treatment of some types of adult cancer.  

However, chelation therapy may produce toxic effects, including kidney damage, impairment of the immune system, and disruption to the development of the nervous system as copper is essential when it comes to aiding the body in the healthy production of new blood vessels and copper also helps regulate blood pressure and the absorption of other vital nutrients.  

UNSW researchers have developed an integrated solution that overcomes issues relating to chelation of copper in the cells and avoids the risk of potentially lethal side effects.

The Benefits

  • Allows targeted delivery of drugs to cancer cells 
  • The targeted delivery system may decrease the risk of side effects of chemotherapy 
  • Cost-effective pathway for the development of copper nanoparticles functionalized with different chemotherapy drugs
  • A technical proof-of-concept prototype is currently in development
  • Potential application to various types of cancer and other pathologies involving dysregulation of copper homeostasis 

Researcher Details

Project Team Contact
Dr Orazio Vittorio


UNSW is seeking a partner to license this technology or to work with the researchers to further develop this technology.