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Friday, August 12, 2011

Nano-blasting tumours - not sci-fi

Now this is something you don’t see every day – a truly promising way to blast tumour cells without damaging any other tissue.

  Before we get too excited, there’s one vital thing I know about medical research of this type, even if it works like a charm. All going well, you can expect it to take 5-10 years in development, and there’s no way to hurry this process. New drugs and techniques have to be tried and tested fully before they are released as safe for humans, and that’s how it should be. Even for purely selfish or commercial reasons, the pharmaceutical company doesn’t want their drug on the market if it turns out there’s a problem. Lawsuits can be very expensive.

  Still, given my circumstances, this is one way of tackling cancer that I wouldn’t mind being a guinea pig for, once it reached the appropriate stage of testing.

  There’s a clearly written article on it by MIT chemical engineers. It’s entitled:

MIT Designed Nanoparticles Target Tumor Cells

You can read about it there, but let me just say how it works, as far as I can see, as a Bear of Very Little Brain.

  Just about all tumour cells have one thing in common that healthy cells don’t. They are more acidic than normal ones. If I have it right, that acidity is partly why people like me with brain tumours get inflammation of the brain, causing Fuzzy Head Syndrome at best, and headaches and increasingly severe brain damage further down the track as the tumour grows.

  But its acidity can be its Achilles Heel. With this drug-delivery, a treatment can be sent via the bloodstream to attack just these targets – cells that are more acidic. Tumours, in other words.

  The key to it as described in the article is this:
  The new MIT approach differs from that taken by most nanoparticle designers. Typically, researchers try to target their particles to a tumor by decorating them with molecules that bind specifically to proteins found on the surface of cancer cells. The problem with that strategy is that it’s difficult to find the right target — a molecule found on all of the cancer cells in a particular tumor, but not on healthy cells. Also, a target that works for one type of cancer might not work for another.
  The brilliance of this mode of delivery is that it is layered. It has a stage-by-stage method of entry to the tumour cells and thus a way of attacking them, and them only, with the right drug. You can read much more about it in the article, which as I said is written clearly, is informative, and the principle isn’t hard to understand.

  An analogy that comes to my mind is to think of the mode of delivery of the tumour-inhibiting drug as a bit like a getting a multi-stage rocket into space, dropping parts off when they’ve done their job, and putting the business end of the rocket right where it should be.

  This technique has been tested successfully on living animals. Its uses are not limited to cancer, and could have a wide range of applications.

  Read all about it. It may be your life it saves. Sadly, I can’t see it happening in my lifespan, but I’m guessing it may become the new Avastin – though let me emphasise, it behaves in quite a different way, in that it’s a delivery mode and not the drug itself.

  (Note: special thanks to a thoughtful Twitter friend for digging this article out. His name is Darren and his Twitter identity is @djmer1. He can talk the leg off an iron pot but he has interesting things to say, and obviously has a very kind heart. Cheers, mate.)

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