'Smart bomb' nanoparticles stop cancer's spread

Researchers use nanotechnology to target chemo for kidney, pancreatic tumors

University researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have discovered a way to use nanotechnology-based "smart bombs" to streamline lower doses of chemotherapy to cancerous tumors, cutting down on the cancer's ability to spread throughout the body.

The treatment strategy, devised by scientists at UCSD, focused on halting the ability of pancreatic and kidney cancers to metastasize. The treatment also appears to cause less damage to surrounding tissue than traditional chemotherapy, according to information released by the university.

The research has been a joint effort between scientists and oncologists in the university's health sciences and engineering departments.

"We were able to establish the desired anti-cancer effect while delivering the drug at levels 15 times below what is needed when the drug is used systemically," said David Cheresh, a professor of pathology at the UCSD School of Medicine, in a written statement. "Even more interesting is that the metastatic lesions were more sensitive to this therapy than the primary tumor."

Cancer metastasis is traditionally much more difficult to treat than the primary tumor, and is what usually leads to the patient's death, according to UCSD.

Cheresh reported that a nanoparticle, carrying a payload of chemotherapy, targets a protein marker found on the surface of certain tumor blood vessels that are associated with the development of new blood vessels and malignant tumor growth. Metastasis is more reliant on new blood vessel growth than established tumors are. While the treatment didn't have a dramatic effect on the primary tumor, studies showed it did stop pancreatic and kidney cancers from metastasizing through the bodies of mice that were being tested.

The nanoparticle delivers the chemo drug Doxorubicin, which has been a problematic choice in earlier tests; researchers reported that giving patients the necessary dosage of that medication caused harsh side effects. "This new strategy represents the first time we've seen such an impact on metastatic growth, and it was accomplished without the collateral damage of weight loss or other outward signs of toxicity in the patient," said Cheresh.

This past February, researchers at MIT announced that they had developed a new nanotechnology that could someday be implanted in the human body to target tumors or specific organs with time-released drug dosages. Layering charged nanoparticles with medications such as chemotherapy drugs or insulin, scientists are hoping to directly deliver drugs for critical and chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Once the layered device is in the body, it will be activated by a remote control or a silicon chip programmed to dispense specific dosages at set intervals.

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Sharon Gaudin

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