Cancer patients have enough to deal with. It all starts with a tumor. If it stops there, that can be a good prognosis. The trouble starts when the metastasized tumor cells start spreading to other organs and tissue. What if we can trick the secondary tumors into ingesting poison? Researchers at the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas led by Mauro Ferrari have spent years towards this end game.
The main objective is to deliver toxin close to the nucleus or multiple nuclei of the metastatic cancer cell where it can be the most effective and lethal. The actual chemotherapeutic agent is called doxorubicin (or dox). It’s been used for treating cancer for many years but can also cause issues in the heart by killing heart muscle cells, thus it is used extremely cautiously. Ferrari’s lab developed a vehicle in the form of a porous silicon particle. Their small size and disk-like shape allow them to travel anywhere within the host.
Blood vessels around tumors are malformed and porous, allowing these silicon vehicles to leak out the blood vessels and gather around the tumor. Yet, this is not enough. The tumor has its own security mechanism that pushes small amounts of the toxin back out into the blood stream. In order to overwhelm this mechanism, Ferrari and colleagues link these dox molecules to a polymeric string, and the influx of entire strings of dox saturated polymer start to degrade the tumor. In mice it takes 2-4 weeks for the tumor to completely degrade. These strings tend to curl up into tiny balls due to the watery nature of the tumor’s surrounding area, allowing them to pass through the tiny pores along with the natural flow of nutrients etc. A large number of these dox-laden strings are ushered towards the nucleus, albeit serendipitous, but the reasoning is unknown.
Up to 50% of cancer bearing mice that were treated with this dox vehicle system showed no signs of tumors 8 months later. That’s the human equivalent of being cancer free for an additional 24 years! If this research pans out, the lifespan of humans can be significantly increased, essentially giving the patient a ‘cure’ for the foreseeable future whereas with the current therapies there may not be any.Source: NATURE