Erlotinib, which targets a protein called the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, found on tumor cell surfaces, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat pancreatic cancer and some types of lung cancer. Doxorubicin is used to treat many cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and bladder, breast, lung, and ovarian tumors.
Staggering these drugs proved particularly powerful against a type of breast cancer cell known as triple-negative, which doesn't have overactive estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors. Triple-negative tumors, which account for about 16 percent of breast cancer cases, are much more aggressive than other types and tend to strike younger women.
That was an exciting finding, Yaffe says. "The problem was," he adds, "how do you translate that into something you can actually give a cancer patient?"
From lab result to drug delivery
To approach this problem, Yaffe teamed up with Hammond, a chemical engineer who has previously designed several types of nanoparticles that can carry two drugs at once. For this project, Hammond and her graduate student, Stephen Morton, devised dozens of candidate particles. The most effective were a type of particle called liposomes spherical droplets surrounded by a fatty outer shell.
The MIT team designed their liposomes to carry doxorubicin inside the particle's core, with erlotinib embedded in the outer layer. The particles are coated with a polymer called PEG, which protects them from being broken down in the body or filtered out by the liver and kidneys. Another tag, folate, helps direct the particles to tumor cells, which express high quantities of folate receptors.
Once the particles reach a tumor and are taken up by cells, the particles start to break down. Erlotinib, carried in the outer shell, is released first, but doxorubicin release is delayed and takes more time to seep into cells, giving erlotinib time to weaken the c
|Contact: Andrew Carleen|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology