‘Homing beacon’ guides chemotherapy drugs straight to the tumour


Scientists have created a ‘homing beacon’ that could guide chemotherapy drugs directly to a tumour.

The destruction of healthy cells, as well as cancerous ones, is the cause of common chemotherapy side effects, such as hair loss.

But a study has found a new gel injected nearby to tumours could direct more of the potent drugs to the cancerous site.

When tested on cancer-ridden mice, the gel helped to shrink their tumours while easing chemotherapy’s side effects. 

The gel contains a compound that can be targeted by certain chemicals, which were attached onto the chemotherapy drugs.  

The study was carried out by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Destroying tumours while sparing healthy cells remains an ongoing challenge in cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy targets rapidly growing cells. This includes those found in the roots of hair, which can result in baldness.

It also affects parts of the stomach and brain that detect toxic substances. This may trigger nausea and vomiting as the body tries to rid itself of the ‘poison’. 

In the past, scientists have tried to guide chemo drugs to tumours by attaching antibodies that bind to proteins on the surface of cancer cells.

However, this resulted in less than one per cent of the drug reaching the tumour. 

The Notre Dame team of academics, led by Lei Zou, therefore tried a different approach using cucurbituril. 

Cucurbituril is a hexagon-shaped synthetic receptor which can capture certain chemicals in its central cavity.  

The team thought injecting the receptor and attaching chemicals it targets onto cancer drugs would guide more of it to the tumour.

The tumour’s acidic contents would rupture the link that holds the drug and the attached chemicals together, allowing the medication to be released.

To put their hypothesis to the test, the researchers first injected a hydrogel that contained cucurbituril beneath the skin of mice.

They then attached a dye to a chemical that targets cucurbituril to make it easily traceable. 

This chemical was injected into the rodents’ bloodstreams, the researchers wrote in the journal ACS Central Science.

Results revealed 4.2 per cent of the injected dye was inside the hydrogel within a few hours, far better than any other approach.

In the second part of the experiment, the researchers injected the hydrogel next to the animals’ tumours. 

They then treated the mice with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, which was attached to a targeting chemical.

These rodents experienced much slower tumour growth and fewer side effects than the animals that were just given doxorubicin.

And the hydrogel remained in the bodies of the mice for 45 days, according to the results of the study. 


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