Researchers develop new nano drug that kills aggressive breast cancer cells

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Sometimes big problems require small solutions. Researchers from the University of Arkansas just developed a new nano drug candidate that specifically targets and kills some of the most aggressive and harmful breast cancer cells, known as triple negative cells. Moreover, this new nano drug doesn’t harm healthy cells at all, meaning it does not result in any of the adverse side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Triple negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of breast cancer.

The team at UA linked together a new class of nano-materials (known as metal-organic frameworks) with the ligands (molecules that bind to other molecules) of a pre-existing drug. This process resulted in the creation of a new nano-porous material capable of targeting and killing tumor cells while simultaneously leaving nearby healthy cells unharmed.

Metal-organic frameworks are a new type of nano-material that show considerable promise regarding drug delivery.

“With the exception of skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in American women,” says Hassan Beyzavi, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UA, in a release. “As we know, thousands of women die from breast cancer each year. Patients with triple negative cells are especially vulnerable, because of the toxic side effects of the only approved treatment for this type of cancer. We’ve addressed this problem by developing a co-formulation that targets cancer cells and has no effect on healthy cells.”

Using PDT to fight breast cancer

In general, Beyzavi’s laboratory focuses on creating new, targeted photodynamic therapy drugs. Regarding cancer specifically, targeted photodynamic therapy (PDT) is especially attractive because it is noninvasive. It also causes far fewer negative side effects. At its core PDT depends on a photosensitizer that, after being irradiated by light, creates toxic reactive oxygen species that seek out and kill cancer cells.

PDT is making waves in the medical community thanks to its ability to combat cancer without any surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

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Beyzavi’s laboratory also specializes in the integration of nano-materials (metal-organic frameworks) with PDT. Such frameworks may considerably increase PDT’s effectiveness, research shows.

This new drug delivery system can also be combined with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or fluorescence imaging to track the drug in patients’ bodies in realtime and assess the treatment’s progress.

As of now, triple negative breast cancer is among the hardest forms of breast cancer to treat. It doesn’t respond to receptor-targeted therapy, rarely concedes to chemotherapy, and usually requires surgery. This new nano-drug could be a badly-needed answer to this nasty form of cancer.

The study is published in Advanced Therapeutics.

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