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Nano -"Motherships" Help Further the Microscopic War on Cancer

Nano -"Motherships" Help Further the Microscopic War on Cancer

Levi Beckerson / Daily Tech

September 16, 2008

Studying and developing treatments for cancer is possibly one of the most publicized fields in medical science in current times. There has been a deluge of new and promising treatments recently using nano- and macro-scale particles to, via the bloodstream, deliver anti-tumor drugs or anti-tumor weapons directly to the site of cancerous growths.

Building on past breakthroughs with these microscopic particles as drug ferries, a group of researchers from UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT will shortly publish new work with a refined lipid-based transport system. While it is not the first lipid-based particle, it may be the first to be as robust as the researchers claim.

The specially engineered lipid structure, instead of simply carrying a toxin or heat bomb to cancer cells, is actually a multi-purpose unit. Coated with F3, a special cancer bloodhound protein, and filled with various imaging components (superparamagnetic iron nanoparticles for NMRIs and fluorescent “quantum dots” for fluorescence imaging) and anti-cancer drugs (doxorubicin), the tiny “motherships” were shown to evade the body’s aggressive immune system for several hours while ferreting out cancer cells and delivering their payloads.

The structure is among the first to pack imaging and cancer killers in the same package. The success surprised even the researchers. Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD who headed the team of chemists, biologists and engineers, states, “The fact that the ships can carry very dissimilar payloads—a magnetic nanoparticle, a fluorescent quantum dot, and a small molecule drug—was a real surprise.”

The research appears in the Germany-based chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.

The team is continuing to explore the possibilities of specialized coatings for the lipid transports. They are looking to develop more proteins that will seek out certain types of tumors or organs in the body and deliver their tailored cargo to those sites.


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