A new particle that can track where chemotherapy travels in the body was recently developed by a team of Ohio State researchers.

Chemotherapy, one of the most common cancer treatments, involves a combination of drugs. The goal is to stop or stunt the growth of cancer cells. However, it can be hard to track where the drugs go in the body or where in the body people experience adverse reactions, said Dr. Maryam Lustberg, a doctor at the James Cancer Hospital.

“We currently don’t have a visual way of knowing if the chemo is circulating and reaching where it needs to be,” Lustberg said.

The new particle is fluorescent and can be combined with chemotherapy drugs, which when looked at under an optic detection system, can show where the chemotherapy drugs are traveling in the body and when they are arriving in cells, according to an OSU release.

Beginning in petri dishes, the new molecule was constructed out of two amino acids and a peptide. According to Mingjun Zhang, a professor in biomedical engineering and leader of the team that performed the study, this molecule can easily coexist with human cells and is relatively harmless to the body.

It is very hard to know where the drug goes currently … Different people respond differently to the drugs,” Zhang said.

Lustberg said tailoring chemotherapy treatments and the ability to track cancer-treatment drugs could allow a decrease in toxicity and better understanding of the tumor, as well as the patient’s response to the treatment.

“There are individual differences in terms of how the drug circulates and is actually able to reach the tumor,” Lustberg said. “Some of these individual variations explain some of the differences we see across patients in terms of response.”

Zhang’s research is a continuation of the 2008 Nobel Prize-winning discovery of a fluorescent protein that is able to show cellular-level activity.

“There is a lot of wonderful growth, there is a lot of community support … there is a lot of exciting work going on in this area, and it’s not limited to one discipline,” Lustberg said.

Zhang’s team included graduate students Zhen Fan, Leming Sun and Yujian Huang and lab manager Yongzhong Wang. The discovery was first published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on Jan. 11 and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Zhang said the team does not yet know when the particle will be ready for use in people.

“I think it is hard to give a timeline,” Zhang said. “It is currently mainly in the lab at this point. We are doing animal studies now. Hopefully it can be transitioned to human use in the near future.”