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"Smart Bombs" for Safer Chemotherapy Treatments

Schematic of the nano-scale 'smart bombs' that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cells that must be killed to stop the spread of the cancer.
Schematic of the nano-scale "smart bombs" that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cells that must be killed to stop the spread of the cancer.
The UC San Diego nanoparticles deliver cancer-cell-killing drugs to networks of blood vessels that feed the tumor. The image on the right (as compared to the left) shows the vascular disruption that occurs when smart bombs strike.
The UC San Diego nanoparticles deliver cancer-cell- killing drugs to networks of blood vessels that feed the tumor. The image on the right (as compared to the left) shows the vascular disruption that occurs when smart bombs strike.

UC San Diego researchers have developed nano-scale "smart bombs" that deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to cells that must be killed to stop the spread of cancer. This smart-bomb approach may significantly lower the required doses of toxic chemotherapy drugs which, in turn, could minimize collateral damage to healthy tissues.

Researchers from the Jacobs School of Engineering are collaborating with UC San Diego Health Sciences on this research project, which is a part of UC San Diego's larger Center for Nanotechnology for the Treatment, Understanding and Monitoring of Cancer (Nano-Tumor Center).

In preclinical trials, this targeted chemotherapy approach largely stopped the spread - or metastasis - of pancreatic and kidney cancer in mice.At the same time, the approach caused less collateral damage to surrounding tissue than traditional chemotherapy approaches which flood the body with cancer-killing toxins.

"We were able to establish the desired anti-cancer effect while delivering the drug at levels 15 times below what is needed when the drug is used systemically," said David Cheresh, Ph.D., project leader and director of Translational Research at Moores Cancer Center.

"NanoEngineering enables the smart delivery of conventional as well as extremely potent new drugs to only the desired locations in the human body, opening up new therapeutic capabilities that were unimaginable just a few years ago," said Sadik Esener, a Nano- Engineering professor from the Jacobs School and the director of UC San Diego's Nano-Tumor Center, funded by the National Cancer Institute.

"I believe the result observed by David Cheresh and his group is very exciting because it may pave the way to novel effective means of treatment of metastatic disease," said Esener.

The engineers and oncologists designed a nanoparticle from lipid-based polymers that delivers the cancer-cell-killing drug doxorubicin to the blood vessels that feed the tumor. The nanoparticles home in on blood vessel cells that bristle with a surface protein associated with development of new blood vessels and malignant tumor growth.

The team found that the nanoparticle/ drug combination stopped pancreatic and kidney cancers from metastasizing throughout the bodies of mice. They reported their results last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Traditional cancer therapies are often limited, or non-effective over time because the toxic side effects limit the dose we can safely deliver to the patient," said Cheresh. "This new drug delivery system offers an important advance in treating metastatic disease."

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