For decades, scientists have envisioned creating nanodevices that
would, for example, be able to travel through the human circulatory
system tracking down and destroying cancer cells and tumors. In
a chemistry lab in NC States College of Physical and Mathematical
Sciences, professors Dan Feldheim and Stefan Franzen are turning
that vision into a literal dose of reality.
Feldheim and Franzen, along with five chemistry graduate students,
have developed a method for making nanoscopic polymer capsules that
can identify cancer cells and deliver DNA fragments with destruction
instructions to the cells nucleus. Having been proven in the
laboratory, and soon to enter animal trials, the discovery could
provide cancer patients with more effective intravenous treatments
without todays cruel side effects.
Keys to the capsules effectiveness are its selectivity for
cancer cells and its ability to get to their DNA before the cell
pumps the therapeutic agent back out. Typical chemotherapy drugs
attack not only cancer cells but all fast-growing cells in the body,
such as those in hair follicles, bone marrow and stomach liningcausing
baldness, immune deficiencies, and nauseaoften making the
cure worse than the disease. There are available cancer drugs
that work, says Feldheim. The problem is in targeting
the drug delivery.
|Weve learned a lot from viruses, he explains.
They have certain proteins on their coatings that allow them
to find a specific cell, unlock the door and go right into the cell
nucleus. Weve attached to our capsule coating small peptide
fragments from virus proteins that can detect and enter cancer cells
while leaving other types of cells alone.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and the North Carolina Biotechnology
Center, Feldheim and Franzen are working with researchers at the UNC
Lineberger Cancer Center and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The UNC and Duke collaborators are providing the DNA fragments for
NC States proprietary delivery technology, and will eventually
provide test therapeutics for other diseases as well. Feldheim believes
that intracellular sensors could be positioned in specific cells through
the same method, perhaps affording earlier cancer detection.
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