Synergistic enhancement of thermally triggered chemotherapy for liver cancer by HIFU: evidence from in vitro and in vivo studies
Introduction: High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is the only noninvasive method available today for thermal ablation of tumors. HIFU-induced rapid heating and mechanical disruption of tissue, not only has a direct destructive effect on tumors, but also provides a noninvasive way for targeted release of chemotherapeutic drugs from drug delivery vehicles such as temperature sensitive liposomes (SfTSLs). The objective of this work was to evaluate the synergistic treatment of Sorafenib-loaded TSLs (SfTSLs) and HIFU via in vitro analysis of cell viability and proliferation using an aggressive human liver cancer cell line and corresponding in vivo analysis of tumor growth and survival using a human xenograft mouse model. Materials and Methods: Liposomes were developed using 70% Dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine, 20% L-a-Phosphatidylcholinehydrogenated Soy, and 10% Cholesterol using thin film hydration method to encapsulate Sorafenib at 10μM. Pellets of Hep3B human liver cancer cells (100 μl, 2.7 million cells/ml) were placed in a 0.2 ml thin-wall PCR tube to mimic dense tumor aggregation. Cell pellets were then inoculated with HIFU alone, SfTSLs, or exposed to a combination of HIFU and SfTSLs. The focused ultrasound signal was generated by a 1.1 MHz transducer with acoustic power ranging from 4.1 W to 12.0 W. Cell viability and proliferation experiments were conducted to measure cancer cell damage at 24, 48, 72, and 96 h post treatment via Annexin V/PI and WST-8 staining. In our in vivo study, 1.0×106 Hep3B cells in Matrigel were injected into left and right flanks of athymic nude mice. Tumors were allowed to grow to 8-10 mm size and then separated into the following treatment groups: HIFU alone, SfTSLs (50 μl) alone, SfTSLs + HIFU, and sham. Tumor sizes were measured by caliper every day and a diagnostic ultrasound system was used pre-treatment, 5 days, 14 days, and prior to sacrificing. Tumors were grouped and processed at 5 days, 14 days, or placed in a survival study to evaluate whether treatment facilitated longer lifespans. Tumor tissues were collected for H&E staining and evaluated by a blinded pathologist post euthanasia. Results and Discussion: Our in vitro data indicate that Hep3B cells exposed to both SfTSLs and HIFU have a significantly lower viability and proliferation rate than untreated cells or the cells treated with only SfTSLs or HIFU. According to our in vivo study, tumor growth in the SfTSLs + HIFU group was reduced as compared to Sham, SfTSLs only, or HIFU only groups. Conclusions: The results of our in vitro and in vivo experiments clearly indicate that chemotherapeutic drug-loaded SfTSLs and HIFU can be an effective therapy for locally aggressive liver cancer. This combination treatment leads to more cellular damage, reduction in tumor growth, and better survival.