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hafnium nanoparticles have recently been shown to be able to enhance the radio-sensitivity of tumor cells. This effect is based on the fact that these particles emit a huge amount of electrons when exposed to radiation. The increase in electron density in the tumor cell makes the cells sensitive to radiation, causing their destruction. The mechanism that underlies this phenomenon is the clathrin-mediated endocytosis pathway that is exploited by viruses, bacteria and toxins to allow entry into cells.
The authors of this work were able to optimize the structure of the hafnium oxide nanoparticles so that the emission of electrons could be increased. They also developed a technique to determine the thermal behavior of these particles and studied the effects of their shape on the thermoplasmonic response. They showed that spherical hafnium nanoparticles generate much more electrons than rod-shaped ones. They also found that the thermal conductivity of the silica shell limits the increase in temperature of the metallic core.
These results demonstrate that a combination of spherical hafnium oxide nanoparticles and radiation can greatly improve the anti-tumor immune response. The authors suggest that this type of radioenhancement could be used in other tumor settings where immunotherapy is being tested. Currently, the main limitation in cancer therapy is that a sufficient anti-tumor immune response cannot be generated by conventional radiation alone. The use of immunotherapy together with radiation would be a powerful strategy to overcome this limitation.