Mechano-Nanoswitches for Ultrasound-Controlled Drug Activation 


Cancer encompasses a variety of diseases that result from the deregulated growth and spread of malignant cells. Chemotherapy drugs primarily interfere with DNA synthesis, targeting rapidly dividing cancer cells. These agents, whilst effective, are nonspecific, leading to healthy tissue damage and subsequent side effects that can contribute to the high mortality rates of cancer patients. An additional issue with chemotherapy drugs is the increased incidence of drug resistance. Hence, the ability to develop chemotherapeutics that actively target cancer cells is highly desirable.

Nanocarriers are now established as materials that can be increasingly utilized in cancer therapeutics. In particular, stimuli-responsive and surface-engineered targeted nanocarriers that release their payloads at the tumor site are of particular interest to cancer therapy. Recent advances in the field of pharmaceutical nanotechnology have led formulation and nanotechnology scientists to develop smart nanocarrier-based targeted delivery systems for effective treatment and management of various cancers. Although many challenges complicate nanodrug development, it may only be a matter of time until these agents offer unique solutions for unmet clinical needs. It has recently been demonstrated that sonomechanical bond scission permits remote-controlled medication release from inert parent macromolecules using ultrasound. In a new study published in the journal Advanced Science, Xiamen University scientists: Professor Shuaidong Huo and Zhihuan Liao in collaboration with Dr. Pengkun Zhao, Yu Zhou, Dr. Robert Göstl and Professor Andreas Herrmann from Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials and RWTH Aachen University in Germany developed a new Au-DOX-Au system sensitive to ultrasonication and applied sonomechanical force to stretch the Au-DNA dimer structures to induce drug release and activation.

In their study, the research team synthesized citrate-protected 15 nm gold nanoparticles (AuNPs), which they subsequently modified with terminally double thiolated ssDNA. The drug loading of the Au-DNA dimer architecture was then measured. The authors showed that DNADOX sequence’s drug payload capacity may be enhanced and adjusted by varying the sequence length and number of drug intercalation sites. The drug loading capacity of Au-Au nanoswitches was demonstrated and quantified. The acquired fluorescence spectra confirmed the drug payload capacity of the Au-Au nanoswitches, and the drug loading efficiency was determined to be 64%. After 10 minutes of ultrasonication, a portion of the initially closed dimer converted to an open state with a significant interparticle gap, demonstrating the dimer structure’s force-response capabilities.

Further, the research team used MTT cell proliferation to compare the activity of US-responsive nanoswitches to a range of controls, they showed improved IC50 values of Au-DOX-Au compared to DOX, suggesting that DOX intercalation inside DNADOX lowered pharmacological action. As a result, findings showed that the pharmacological activity of nanoswitches might be activated and regulated spatiotemporally by varying the ultrasonication exposure period for selective cancer cell inhibition.

In summary, the new study used ultrasound as an external stimulus for the first time to regulate drug release and activation utilizing a sonomechanical responsive Au-DNA nanoswitch. According to the researchers, this new technique provides a roadmap for building and designing drug activation nanoparticle systems with external ultrasonic control. Moreover, this strategy envisioned a future medication with well-regulated action that may prevent systemic adverse effects.

Mechano-Nanoswitches for Ultrasound-Controlled Drug Activation - Medicine Innovates
Figure 1. Nanoswitches for ultrasound-controlled drug activation for selective cancer cell inhibition.

About the author

Dr. Shuaidong Huo (group website is engaged in the basic research and construction of innovative pharmaceutical formulations, mainly focusing on “overcoming biological barriers to achieve efficient delivery” and “regulating drug activity to reduce side effects”. His current innovative scientific research achievements mainly include: (1) Revealed the biological laws and mechanisms that nanocarriers overcome multiple biological barriers, and constructed a multi-level drug delivery system that can effectively overcome multiple biological barriers in vivo; (2) For the first time, proposed and verified the new concept that sonomechanical force could regulate the activity of chemotherapeutic drugs and proteins at the molecular level and nanoscale.

So far, Dr. Huo has published more than 50 peer-reviewed papers, including Nature Chemistry, Nature Nanotechnology, Science Advances, PNAS, Cancer Research, Materials Today, Advanced Materials, Advanced Science, ACS Nano, and Angewandte Chemie, etc. The relevant research findings provide a theoretical basis and innovative strategies for eliminating the side effects of drugs and realizing precise treatment.


Huo S, Liao Z, Zhao P, Zhou Y, Göstl R, Herrmann A. MechanoNanoswitches for UltrasoundControlled Drug Activation. Advanced Science. 2022 Apr;9(12):2104696.

Go To Advanced Science.

Huo S, Zhao P, Shi Z, Zou M, Yang X, Warszawik E, Loznik M, Göstl R, Herrmann A. Mechanochemical bond scission for the activation of drugs. Nature Chemistry, 2021, 13, 131-139.