Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Developing natural nanoparticle “smart bombs” to target hard-to-treat tumours

Professor Roberta Tasso
Project period
Mar 2024 - Feb 2027
Research Institute
Universita Degli Studi di Genova
Cancer types
General cancer research
Breast cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Roberta Tasso and her team have an ambitious plan: to find new ways to deliver drugs straight to hard-to-treat tumours. By using nanoparticles that occur naturally in our bodies as “smart bombs”, the team hope to be able to knock out tumours even after cancer has spread.

Hope for the future

Metastasis – the process in which cancer spreads from the original tumour to other parts of the body – is the leading cause of cancer death. A combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can usually treat cancer if it is caught early, but once the disease has spread it can become incurable. Developing better ways of preventing and treating metastasis is crucial in stopping lives being cut short by cancer.

With Curestarter support, Professor Tasso and her team are investigating new ways of diagnosing metastasis and delivering chemotherapy drugs specifically to metastatic tumours. This means targeting the cancerous cells, while surrounding healthy cells are not affected. Research like this is the first step in developing new cures for late stage cancer patients, giving them a chance at recovery.


Meet the scientist

Professor Roberta Tasso is a passionate researcher, spending most of her days in the laboratory with her team. Nevertheless she loves spending her free time going to the theater and concerts. She’s a huge music enthusiast, particularly rock music. She also enjoys spending time with her friends – especially indulging in sushi!

The science

Artificially-created nanoparticles are already used in cancer therapies to deliver drugs around the body, but don’t always work as well as expected. Professor Tasso and her team are exploring an innovative approach using a nanoparticle called an extracellular vesicle, or EV, to deliver drugs straight to metastatic tumours. These tiny, fat-covered particles are produced naturally by our cells, and can carry information around our bodies.

The team expects EV nanoparticles to be much more efficient in targeting metastatic cancer cells and avoiding healthy tissue, which could lead to new ways to detect metastasis as well as a kinder treatment with fewer side effects. One way EVs do this is by attaching onto the unique tissue that grows around a tumour, rather than the tumour itself. As they are a familiar particle that already occur in our bodies, they are easily absorbed and travel freely through the bloodstream into hard-to-reach organs.

The team will engineer these EVs to hold known effective anti-cancer drugs, which are protected by the fatty layer around the particles which means they can elude our immune system. They will test this on breast cancer tumours using Paclitaxel, a widely-used chemotherapy drug.

If effective, this novel drug delivery system could be used with different drugs to treat other metastatic cancers. They hope that their exciting research will show that this method of targeting tumours is not only more effective than existing therapies, but is also cheaper and gentler for patients.

Headshot of researcher Professor Roberta Tasso in front of a blue background Professor Roberta Tasso
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