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Nanoparticles May Help Attack Cancer More Directly

Method tested in mice could allow more potent treatment with fewer side effects

SATURDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- Nanoparticles designed to provide more direct delivery of cancer drugs to tumors have been developed by U.S. researchers.

Made from a safe, biodegradable polymer, the nanoparticles are chemically engineered to inhibit the MARK signaling pathway, which is involved in most human tumors, and to carry a higher concentration of anti-cancer drugs to a specific area, according to the scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

By inhibiting the MARK signaling pathway, the nanoparticles hinder the multiplication of cancer cells and make the cells more susceptible to chemotherapy drugs. The researchers also modified the polymer used in the nanoparticles to increase drug loading 20-fold to overcome what they describe as a current drawback in nanomedicine -- low efficiency of drug loading.

"Current chemotherapy drugs must be administered in high concentration throughout the body in order to destroy tumor cells, translating to high toxicity and discomfort for the patient, mainly due to the effects on normal cells," co-lead author Rania Harfouche said in a Brigham and Women's news release.

The new nanoparticles would "allow for lower drug concentrations to be used, and provide opportunity for more potent treatments with lesser side-effects for the patient," Harfouche said.

In lab tests, nanoparticles loaded with the cancer drug cisplatin prevented the growth of cancerous skin and lung cells and also triggered cell death. When used in mice, the drug-loaded nanoparticles inhibited tumor growth, the researchers reported.

The research was published online in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The nanoparticles target pathways involved in multiple cancer types and can be applied to a diverse set of cancers, including hard-to-treat cancers, such as breast, pancreatic and liver cancer," senior author Shiladitya Sengupta said in the news release. "The potential to add homing beacons on the surface of the nanoparticles can increase the efficiency of selectively targeting specific tumors and abolish off-target side effects."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about chemotherapy.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, April 20, 2009

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