Researchers are developing a cancer drug that disguises itself as fat to sneak itself inside cancer cells and eventually kill the disease. The approach is also what researchers hope to reduce patients from experiencing the adverse effects of chemotherapy.
From the words of Dr. Nathan Gianneschi, a professor from the department of chemistry and the lead researcher from the Northwestern University, the drug is “like a ‘Trojan horse,’ ‘it looks like a nice little fatty acid, so the tumor’s receptors see it and invite it in.” Once inside cancer cells, “the drug starts getting metabolized and kills the tumor cells.”
In a report published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the researchers engineered a way for chemotherapy treatments to be disguised as lipids with fats at both ends of its fatty-acids chains. “It’s like the fatty acid has a hand on both ends,” Professor Gianneschi said. “One can grab onto the drug, and one can grab onto proteins.”
In turn, malignant cells or proteins called human serum albumin (HSA)—which is found in blood and carries fat molecules around the body— will allow the drug-carrying fats to enter specific cells and in eventual tumors, as to where the drug will then be activated and destroys the cancerous cells.
Mainly, fat is an integral product of the human body that tumors use to fuel their growth. Cancer, which is a result of rapidly replicating cancerous cells, recognize HSA, and allow fats and proteins inside.
“The idea is to disguise drugs as fats so they get into cells and the body is happy to transport them around,” Professor Gianneschi.
Researchers recently tested the approach using the chemotherapy drug called paclitaxel on a batch of mice. The experiment, according to the team from Northwestern, said that the Roman-inspired method “completely eliminated” three types of cancer, namely: bone, pancreatic, and colon.
Currently, chemotherapy is considered as one of the most aggressive medical solutions in killing cancer cells. However, the treatment is not picky with what kinds of cells it kills off in the process. In other words, even healthy and unaffected cells die due to chemotherapy.
As a result, patients experience extreme side effects such as evident hair loss, constant vomiting, and infections. Additionally, patients can also go through a loss of appetite, energy, and can drastically affect the overall outlook on life.
Meanwhile, the overall effectiveness of chemotherapy can still be dependent on the type of tumor, how advanced it is, and a patient’s overall health. There’s also the threat of cancer developing resistance from the drugs administered to combat it, even though it is already considered as a very aggressive approach.
Professor Workman chief executive of The Institute for Cancer Research said: ‘Cancer’s ability to adapt, evolve and become drug-resistant is the cause of the vast majority of deaths from the disease and the biggest challenge we face in overcoming it.’
In light of the situation, Gianneschi and his team hope that the approach that they are developing will be able to decrease the experience from the side-effects of chemotherapy.
Primarily, the results of their study also showed that their approach allowed for a paclitaxel dose that is 20 times higher than what is typically given, but despite the higher dose, the treatment was 17 times safer than other paclitaxel drugs.
“Commonly used small-molecule drugs get into tumors – and other cells,” Professor Gianneschi said.
“They are toxic to tumors but also to humans. Hence, in general, these drugs have horrible side effects. Our goal is to increase the amount that gets into a tumor versus into other cells and tissues. That allows us to dose at much higher quantities without side effects, which kills the tumors faster.”
Furthermore, it may also help curb the rising death toll that cancer is causing globally. In the US, more than 1.7million people were diagnosed with the disease last year, while over 609,000 died, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Specifically, with pancreatic cancer, it is the 12th most common cancer worldwide, with 458,918 new cases in 2018 alone. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and accounts for 7% of all cancer deaths, according to Cancer.Net.
Furthermore, the problematic thing about pancreatic cancer is that it is hard to detect early on, so researchers are hell-bent into finding solutions for the disease when it is already in its late stages, or it is already too late to administer early-on medical treatments.