Scientists target cancer cells with nanotechnology

A team of Australian scientists have developed a way to deliver lethal drug doses to tumours without causing side-effects, such as nausea and hair loss.

The scientists used nanotechnology to create tiny particles or mini-cells which are tagged with anti-cancer antibodies and specifically attack cancer cells, but leave healthy tissue unaffected.

The team say there is no other system where such a high concentration of a drug can be made up into a tiny parcel and they are optimistic that the technique could treat tumours in the breast, ovaries, colon and lungs.

The researchers have already tested the technique in mice and dogs and plan to begin human trials shortly if approval is granted from Australian, U.S., European and Japanese regulatory authorities.

Current chemotherapy treatment involves subjecting the patient's entire body to powerful drugs, which can cause a range of nasty side-effects; the mini-cells are about one-fifth the size of a normal cell and were created from bacteria cells stripped of their reproductive powers.

These mini-cells were then loaded with cancer drugs, and tagged with antibodies which are attracted to cancerous tumours.

When the cell reaches the cancer, the drug is released directly into the malignant growth.

Researcher Jennifer MacDiarmid, from the biotechnology company EnGeneIC, in Sydney, says the technique reduced tumours in animals without side effects and by using only a very small amount of the drug.

Dr. MacDiarmid says the treatment could potentially be used on any solid tumours and has the potential to pave the way for multi-drug combinations and custom-made therapies for individual cancer patients.

The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell.

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