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Radiotherapy is currently used in around 50% of cancer treatments and relies on the deposition of energy directly into tumour tissue. Although it is generally effective, some of the deposited energy can adversely affect healthy tissue outside the tumour volume, especially in the case of photon radiation (gamma and X-rays). Improved radiotherapy outcomes can be achieved by employing ion beams due to the characteristic energy deposition curve which culminates in a localised, high radiation dose (in form of a Bragg peak). In addition to ion radiotherapy, novel sensitisers, such as nanoparticles, have shown to locally increase the damaging effect of both photon and ion radiation, when both are applied to the tumour area. Amongst the available nanoparticle systems, gold nanoparticles have become particularly popular due to several advantages: biocompatibility, well-established methods for synthesis in a wide range of sizes, and the possibility of coating of their surface with a large number of different molecules to provide partial control of, for example, surface charge or interaction with serum proteins. This gives a full range of options for design parameter combinations, in which the optimal choice is not always clear, partially due to a lack of understanding of many processes that take place upon irradiation of such complicated systems. In this review, we summarise the mechanisms of action of radiation therapy with photons and ions in the presence and absence of nanoparticles, as well as the influence of some of the core and coating design parameters of nanoparticles on their radiosensitisation capabilities.