Cancer is one of the most prominent ailments in our society. Cancer treatment is complicated and risky, and places a lot of stress on the patient; it often derails their life plans. Current chemotherapy treatments negatively affect healthy cells as well as cancerous ones.
For decades, researchers have been attempting to develop methods to deliver localized treatment. Mark Salzman, Ph. D and Alessandro Santin, M.D.—both faculty at Yale—have recently developed an effective method for targeting cancer, involving ‘sticky’ nanoparticles.
Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy drugs keep rapidly dividing and proliferating cancer cells from multiplying. Cancer cells divide at a faster rate than healthy cells, so the theory is that chemotherapy treatment should affect cancer cells more.
Epithilone B, or EB, is a chemical compound that stops cells from dividing, which has been considered for treatment of various cancers. Cells that cannot divide will be effectively killed as they lose function However, a clinical trial using EB found that while it is effective at destroying cancer cells, the drug is too damaging to the body.
Use of EB leads to severe and dangerous side effects such as neurotoxicity. Two of the patients involved in this clinical trial had to be taken off the treatment due to the intensity of these side effects. Unfortunately, most current treatments are similar to EB in that they don’t discriminate when they kill cells.
Using nanoparticles containing EB would significantly reduce the toxicity of the drug to healthy cells, and allow it to be injected directly into the cancerous site. However, in tests, these nanoparticles were easily flushed from the site, rendering the treatment ineffective.
The new treatment method from Yale solves this problem. Salzman and Santin developed bio-adhesive particles that literally stick to the cancerous site. This breakthrough in engineering increases the staying power of the drug from 5 minutes to 24 hours. This treatment was shown to be effective for treating uterine cancer in mice with human tumours, and was developed specifically to target gynecological and uterine cancers.
Effective localized treatment could dramatically change the way cancer is approached. Such treatment would be faster, have fewer side effects and alter the patient’s life course less. Focused attacks on the cancer would much more efficiently eradicate it.
The researchers responsible for this innovation plan to attempt to perfect the timing of this bio-adhesive, and by extension the drug dosage. In the future, targeted treatments like this could potentially be applied to a wide assortment of cancers, lightening the burden of chemotherapy on cancer patients.