- Microscopic bubbles prove capable of carrying, activating drugs to tumors in mice.
- Scientists say this new approach to cancer treatment may even be more effective than chemotherapy.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The medical community is constantly searching for new and better ways to prevent, treat, and beat cancer in all of its forms. Now, researchers from Michigan State University and Stanford University are suggesting a new, novel approach to cancer treatment. Tiny, nano-sized bubbles naturally produced by cells in our bodies could be used to efficiently transport cancer-killing drugs and genes to tumors in patients’ bodies.
Healthy cells in the human body are constantly releasing tiny bubbles used to move genetic material, such as DNA or RNA, to other cells. This is an extremely important part of the body’s overall homeostasis process, as it’s the DNA in these bubbles that instructs RNA on how to produce important bodily proteins and ensure they behave normally.
These bubbles, or extracellular vesicles (EV), were proven capable of delivering cancer-fighting drugs and genes to breast cancer cells in mice.
“What we’ve done is improve a therapeutic approach to delivering enzyme-producing genes that can convert certain drugs into toxic agents and target tumors,” says Masamitsu Kanada, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, in a university release.
The drugs researchers have in mind for such an approach are “prodrugs,” or drugs that are inactive until being metabolized by the body. An example of a prodrug would be aspirin. The idea is that these bubbles will be used to simultaneously deliver and activate prodrugs within cancer cells.
For their research on lab mice, the study’s authors used EVs to deliver enzyme-producing genes to breast cancer cells, activating a therapy consisting of a combination of prodrugs. Two different DNA delivery mechanisms (known as minicircle DNA and regular plasmid) were also placed into different bubbles used in the experiment. This was done in order to measure which of the two helped the bubbles transport the treatment more efficiently.
The minicircle DNA was 14 times more effective at cancer cell delivery than the plasmid, and boasted an even higher success rate at killing cancer cells. Researchers found the therapy destroyed more than half of the breast cancer cells in the mice.
Once refined and tested more thoroughly, researchers say this approach could one day be a better cancer treatment option than chemotherapy.
“Conventional chemotherapy isn’t able to differentiate between tumors and normal tissue, so it attacks it all,” Kanada says. “This non-specificity can cause severe side effects and insufficient drug concentration in tumors.”
These bubbles can be targeted towards specific bodily areas, and are naturally compatible with the human body, which would significantly minimize any risk of causing undesired immune responses in cancer patients, which is often the case regarding many cancer treatments being used today.
“If EVs prove to be effective in humans, it would be an ideal platform for gene delivery and it could be used in humans sooner than we expect,” Kanada concludes.
Completely separate from this study, a clinical trial on this treatment is already set to begin soon in the United States. The trial will use these bubbles and a type of therapeutic RNA molecule to treat metastatic pancreatic cancer. Simultaneously, Kanada and his team plan to continue testing and refining this promising new cancer treatment.
The study is published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.