Delivers medicine to cancer cells while protecting healthy cells

Cancer of one form or another kills 7.6 million people each year. Yet cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, have helped many of those with the disease to go on to live healthy lives.Nevertheless, chemotherapy does take a toll on the body. During treatment, chemotherapy attacks all of the body’s cells, not just cancer cells. The result destroys healthy cells, causing many patients to suffer major side effects during and after treatment. And because current treatments aren’t specifically targeted to cancer cells, only 0.01 per cent of chemotherapy drugs actually reach the tumour and its diseased cells.

A new approach to cancer treatment carried out by Sofie Snipstad, who recently graduated from the Department of Physics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), combines ultrasound, bubbles and nanoparticles with chemotherapy. In an experiment conducted in mice with an aggressive breast cancer type (triple negative) the treatment has cured cancer in mice, in addition to that the cancer has not returned in the trial animals.

In this method, instead of being injected straight into the bloodstream and transported randomly to both sick and healthy cells, the chemotherapy medicine is encapsulated in nanoparticles. When nanoparticles containing the cancer drugs are injected into the bloodstream, the nanoparticles are so large that they remain in the blood vessels in most types of healthy tissues. This prevents the chemotherapy from harming healthy cells.

Blood vessels supplying the cancer cells have porous walls, while the sections of blood vessels passing through healthy cells are not porous. This protects healthy cells from the chemotherapy. Blood vessels in the tumour, however, have porous walls, so that the nanoparticles containing the chemotherapy can work their way into the cancerous cells. This method allows to supply 100 times more chemotherapy to the tumour compared to chemotherapy alone. However, the nanoparticles can only reach cells that are closest to the blood vessels that carry the drug-laden particles. That means that cancer cells that are far from the blood vessels that supply the tumour do not get the chemotherapy drugs. She stated that “For the treatment to be effective, it has to reach all parts of the tumour. So our nanoparticles need help to deliver the medicine.”


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