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Redox-responsive targeted gelatin nanoparticles for delivery of combination wt-p53 expressing plasmid DNA and gemcitabine in the treatment of pancreatic cancer

Jing Xu, Amit Singh and Mansoor M Amiji*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:75  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-75

Published: 8 February 2014



Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the most dreaded cancers with very low survival rate and poor prognosis to the existing frontline chemotherapeutic drugs. Gene therapy in combination with a cytotoxic agent could be a promising approach to circumvent the limitations of previously attempted therapeutic interventions.


We have developed a redox-responsive thiolated gelatin based nanoparticle system that efficiently delivers its payload in the presence of glutathione-mediated reducing intra-cellular environment and could be successfully used for site-specific wt-p53 expressing plasmid DNA as well as gemcitabine delivery by targeting epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Efficacy studies were performed in subcutaneous human adenocarcinoma bearing SCID beige mice along with molecular level p53 plasmid and apoptotic marker expression by PCR and western blot for all study groups.


Efficacy studies demonstrate an improved in vivo targeting efficiency resulting in increased transfection efficiency and tumor growth suppression. In all the treatment groups, the targeted nanoparticles showed better anti-tumor activity than their non-targeted as well as non-encapsulated, naked therapeutic agent counterparts (50.1, 61.7 and 77.3% tumor regression by p53 plasmid alone, gemcitabine alone and in combination respectively). Molecular analysis revealed a higher mRNA expression of transfected p53 gene, its corresponding protein and that the tumor cell death in all treatment groups was due to the induction of apoptotic pathways.


Gene/drug combination treatment significantly improves the therapeutic performance of the delivery system compared to the gene or drug alone treated groups. Anti-tumor activity of the thiolated gelatin loaded wt-p53 plasmid or gemcitabine-based therapy was attributed to their ability to induce cell apoptosis, which was confirmed by a marked increase in mRNA level of proapoptotic transcription factors, as well as, protein apoptotic biomarker expression and significant decrease in the anti-apoptotic transcription factors.

Thiolated gelatin; Wt-p53 expressing plasmid DNA; Gemcitabine; Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma; Apoptosis