Scientists have developed microscopic bio-grenades to target tumours and explode their cancerous properties.
The grenades are bio-engineered liposomes, which are fat globules used to carry nutrients and other materials around the body and as a method of drug delivery, effectively acting as a cellular postal service. These liposomes have been engineered so that their releasing capabilities are triggered by heat, so that when the temperature is raised toxic drugs can be released and can target specific tumours.
This technology is thought to be a safer, more effective way for the administration of cancer medication, as it only targets specific tumours and minimises any potential side effects that may arise from cancer treatments.
The treatment has been trialled extensively in animal experiments and has proven to be very effective . Experts hail this technology as the “holy grail of nanomedicine.”
Prof Kostas Kostarelos, who is working at the nanomedicine lab at the University of Manchester has said that there are still challenged to be faced if these grenades are to revolutionise the war on cancer. “The difficulty is, how do you release the liposomes when they reach their target? We need to try to develop liposomes in such a way that they will be very stable at 37C and not leak any cancer drug molecules and then abruptly release them at 42C.”
This is a current cause of concern for scientists, as the bio-engineered liposomes have been designed to be stable and water-tight at normal body temperature, 37C, but leaky when the temperature is increased to 42C. The issue is therefore about raising the body temperature to 42C, only in the specific area of the tumour, to abruptly release the cancer drug molecules. Tumours need to be heated to make this form of treatment effective. Heat pads may be used to heat tumours on the body surface, but heating tumours inside the body proves to be more problematic. Prof Kostarelos has suggested that probes may be used or ultra sound to warm internal tumours.
In animal experiments using mice as a study model, tests using thermal grenades to target melanoma resulted in a greater uptake of drugs in the tumours which lead to an improvement in survival rates.
Prof Charles Swanton, the chairman of the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Liverpool where the research team will present their findings next week, has stated that “this is not a fantasy. Similar techniques are already being trialled in patients and these studies demonstrate for the first time how they can be built to include a temperature control, which could open up a range of new treatment avenues. This is still early work but these liposomes could be an effective way of targeting treatment towards cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed,” which is ultimately the goal for every cancer research scientist.