Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mechanistic studies of Gemcitabine-loaded nanoplatforms in resistant pancreatic cancer cells

Anne-Laure Papa13, Sudipta Basu13, Poulomi Sengupta13, Deboshri Banerjee13, Shiladitya Sengupta1234 and Rania Harfouche13*

Author affiliations

1 BWH-HST Center for Biomedical Engineering, Harvard Medical School, 65 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA

2 Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 65 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA

3 MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Harvard Medical School, 65 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA

4 Dana Farber Cancer Institute 450, Brookline Avenue, MA, 02215, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Cancer 2012, 12:419  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-419

Published: 22 September 2012



Pancreatic cancer remains the deadliest of all cancers, with a mortality rate of 91%. Gemcitabine is considered the gold chemotherapeutic standard, but only marginally improves life-span due to its chemical instability and low cell penetrance. A new paradigm to improve Gemcitabine’s therapeutic index is to administer it in nanoparticles, which favour its delivery to cells when under 500 nm in diameter. Although promising, this approach still suffers from major limitations, as the choice of nanovector used as well as its effects on Gemcitabine intracellular trafficking inside pancreatic cancer cells remain unknown. A proper elucidation of these mechanisms would allow for the elaboration of better strategies to engineer more potent Gemcitabine nanotherapeutics against pancreatic cancer.


Gemcitabine was encapsulated in two types of commonly used nanovectors, namely poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) and cholesterol-based liposomes, and their physico-chemical parameters assessed in vitro. Their mechanisms of action in human pancreatic cells were compared with those of the free drug, and with each others, using cytotoxity, apoptosis and ultrastructural analyses.


Physico-chemical analyses of both drugs showed high loading efficiencies and sizes of less than 200 nm, as assessed by dynamic light scattering (DLS) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), with a drug release profile of at least one week. These profiles translated to significant cytotoxicity and apoptosis, as well as distinct intracellular trafficking mechanisms, which were most pronounced in the case of PLGem showing significant mitochondrial, cytosolic and endoplasmic reticulum stresses.


Our study demonstrates how the choice of nanovector affects the mechanisms of drug action and is a crucial determinant of Gemcitabine intracellular trafficking and potency in pancreatic cancer settings.

Gemcitabine; Pancreatic cancer; Liposome; Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid); Transmission electron microscopy