Cancer drugs are injected into the bloodstream and move through the body seeking out fast-growing cancer cells. One consequence of chemotherapy is the unintended effect on different parts of the body, including messing up the digestive system. Such side effects can be minimized if the drug is better targeted.
Another consequence of the poor targeting of some chemo drugs is that they miss cancer cells entirely.
For these reasons, different research groups are focusing on drug delivery: finding smart ways to direct the anti-cancer drug to the required target. One such research team is led by Professor Warren Chan of the University of Texas.
Professor Chan thinks the answer to more effective targeting is the use of nanoparticles. In trials, the research group has used nanoparticles attached to strands of DNA that can, remarkably, change shape to gain improved access to cancerous tissue.
Interviewed by Pharmaceutical Processing, Professor Chan explains: “Your body is basically a series of compartments.” He added: “Think of it as a giant house with rooms inside. We’re trying to figure out how to get something that’s outside, into one specific room.”
The complication with the approach is based on different cancers. Because different types of cancer differ in morphology, and cancers at different stages equally vary, selecting the appropriate nanoparticle is important. Here the research group have been looking at nanoparticles of varying sizes and shapes, as well as different coatings.
The solution is to create nanoparticles that can change shape to meet different types of tumors. This structural alteration makes the technology more versatile and means treatments could be delivered more quickly, rather than waiting for test results to assess the size and shape of the tumor.
The shape-shifting has been achieved by constructing the nanoparticles from tiny fragments of metal and then attaching DNA to them. The DNA acts as a means for marking the cancer, and then allowing the chemotherapy drug to attack the tumor.
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled “Tailoring nanoparticle designs to target cancer based on tumor pathophysiology.”