Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have made new progress in nanotechnology: they have managed to improve a nanoscale drug used to treat breast cancer. Nano researchers work with drugs smaller than 100 nanometers, in other words they manipulate substances at the atomic level. Now researchers have created a nanoscale drug that contains inside a component that activates the immune system to destroy cancer cells in breast tumors.
To test the new drug, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center conducted a study on laboratory animals which were implanted with human breast cancer cells. Results showed that mice that received the drug lived longer than their counterparts who did not receive the drug and than those who received only part of it. Other drugs used in oncology destroy cancer cells from the outside, and an adverse effect would be that they can attack also the healthy cells. Unlike standard treatment, this new therapy includes nano drugs that are connected with a ‘nanoplatform’ that acts as carrier for the drug.
Approximately 20-30% of breast and ovarian cancers are HER2-positive cancers, which have a poor prognosis compared with other tumors. HER2-positive cancers are more aggressive because Her2 gene stimulates a protein that promotes the formation of excessive tumor growth. Until now researchers have developed a single drug, trastuzumab, which is effective in the treatment of HER2-positive cancer, but most patients develop resistance to treatment in the first year. However, researchers have sought to use transtuzumab, or Herceptin, which is a antibody for Her2 gene, as carier for the nano drug.
Julia Y. Ljubimova, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery and biomedical sciences and director of the Nanomedicine Research Center, explained that they have genetically engineered a new ‘fusion gene’ that consists of interleukin-2, a protein that stimulates the immune system, and a gene of Herceptin. She said that interleukin-2 activates a number of cells in the immune system but it is not stable in plasma and does not target specifically cancer cells. By combining the two components, the researchers were able to send both Herceptin direct into HER2-positive cancer cells and IL-2 at the tumor site. In this way, the effect was more powerful because not only the drug was sent directly into cancer cells but also because there could be used a double dose of the drug.
In addition, the new nanodrug, Polycefin, also contains another component that blocks the formation of blood vessels by cancer cells (blood vessels maintain growth and tumor development). “We believe this is the first time a drug has been designed for nano-immunology anti-cancer treatment,” explained Ljubimova.
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