The Cytotoxic Highway: Weeding Out The Bad From The Good.


There’s only one thing that’s (arguably) worse than cancer, and that’s the treatment of cancer. The most common methods are either by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Neither is fun, and the side effects are just as bad as the symptoms of the disease itself. The side effects are usually due to the destruction of the good cells along with the cancer cells. A necessary evil at this point. So when Physicist Murillo Martins at the Niels Bohr institute (University of Copenhagen) had the idea of using a ‘transport vehicle’ to take a kind of toxin straight to each cancer cell, tricking it into absorbing said toxin and leaving the good cells untouched, this can be the news many cancer patients have been waiting for.

The Cytotoxic Highway

To create the actual ‘vehicle’ was the easier part. A common method of transporting material in the body is using magnetic beads. These can be custom created to have a specific charge (for instance) so that it binds with the material you want to transport. Then these beads can be directed to the location of choice using magnets.

The next step is to figure out how to get the cancer cell to absorb this cytotoxin. Martins investigated the phenomenon where breast, lung and ovarian cancer often spreads to the bones, which are composed of minerals like calcium phosphate. There are many forms of calcium phosphate, the one that’s most common in human bone is called Hydroxyapatite (HA) or ‘bone mineral’ with the formula Ca5(PO4)3(OH). He coated the package containing the toxin with this mineral to see if cancer cells would be attracted to it.


Image from Martins and Bordallo

Image from Martins and Bordallo


Breast, Lung and Colon cancer cells were tested alongside healthy cells at the Laboratory of Tumour Immunology (School of Bioscience, Botucatu, Brazil). Studies showed that the cancer cells absorbed the packages with the cytotoxin, changing the metabolism towards that of a dying cell. Healthy cells did not tend to absorb the toxin and thus maintained healthy metabolism. This study suggests that this method can be used in the near future to send toxic chemicals straight to the cancerous cells without causing any collateral damage to healthy, useful cells.


cancer toxins

The cancer cells have absorbed the packages and show signs they are about to die, even without the inclusion of the cytotoxin. The green spots show regions with high concentration of the packages.

  Source: Scientific Reports
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