System designed to deliver chemo drugs straight into tumors with fewer side effects

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(Photo: CGTN)

CHICAGO, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Researchers at Northwestern University have designed a new drug-delivery system that disguises chemotherapeutics as fat in order to outsmart, penetrate and destroy tumors.

To develop the targeting system, the researchers engineered a long-chain fatty acid with two binding sites that are able to attach to drugs on each end. The fatty acid and its hitchhiking drugs are then hidden inside human serum albumin (HSA), which carries molecules, including fats, throughout the body.

The researchers then used the drug delivery system to carry a common, FDA-approved chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel, into tumors in a small animal model. Disguised as fat, the drug entered and completely eliminated the tumors in three types of cancer: bone, pancreatic and colon.

Better is that the researchers found they could deliver 20 times the dose of paclitaxel with their system, compared to two other paclitaxel-based drugs. And even at such a high quantity, the drug in the system was still 17 times safer.

"It's like a Trojan horse," said NU's Nathan Gianneschi, who led the research. "It looks like a nice little fatty acid, so the tumor's receptors see it and invite it in. Then the drug starts getting metabolized and kills the tumor cells."

"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," Gianneschi added.

The study was published on Thursday in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).