The research was done by a team of scientists at Northwestern University in the United States.
“It’s like a Trojan horse,” says Northwestern University’s Nathan Gianneschi, who led the research. “It looks like a nice little fatty acid, so the tumor’s receptors see it and invite it in. Then the drug starts getting metabolized and kills the tumor cells.”
How will this new treatment work exactly?
To develop the targeting system, the scientists developed a fatty acid with two binding sites with each having the capability of attaching to chemotherapeutic drugs. The fatty acid and its hitchhiking drugs are then hidden within the human serum albumin (HSA), which carries molecules throughout the body, and tricks the tumor into allowing the drug inside the cancer cells. This “trick”, according to the scientists, will be made possible as the body’s cellular receptors identify the fats and proteins delivered by the HSA and will hence let them in.
The hungry cancer cells consume the nutrients much faster than normal cells. Once the cancer cells metabolize the hidden drug, it activates and kills them.
“It’s like the fatty acid has a hand on both ends: one can grab onto the drug and one can grab onto proteins,” Gianneschi said. “The idea is to disguise drugs as fats so that they get into cells and the body is happy to transport them around.”
The researchers used the drug delivery system to carry paclitaxel, a common, FDA-approved chemotherapy drug, into tumors in a small animal model. The drug, disguised as fat, entered the tumors and “completely destroyed” three types of cancer: bone, pancreatic, and colon.
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Furthermore, the team found that they could deliver 20 times the typical dose of paclitaxel with their system, in comparison to two other paclitaxel-based drugs. Despite the high dose, however, the drug system developed by the Northwestern University scientists was 17 times safer.
The new treatment could bring much relief to cancer patients
As we mentioned above, common anticancer drugs generally have horrible side effects. This new “Trojan Horse” chemotherapy drug delivery system could be a boon in that regard to cancer patients as it promises to reduce the adverse reactions of cancer patients.
“Our goal is to increase the amount that gets into a tumor versus into other cells and tissues. That allows us to dose at much higher quantities without side effects, which kills the tumors faster,’ Gianneschi says.
The newly developed system has still a long way to go before it can be officially approved for use. However, the method, despite being in its early stages, does look promising. Right now, we don't know for sure when this treatment will pursue clinical trials but it does offer hope for a better form of cancer treatment in the future.
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