Washington, Apr 18 : Researchers have made a breakthrough in gene therapy for cancer, by developing microscopic magnets, called nanomagnets, that enable 'armed' human cells to target tumours.
The study suggests that this 'magnetic targeting' method will involve inserting nanomagnets into cells carrying genes to fight tumours, resulting in many more cells successfully reaching and invading malignant tumours.
The drawback in using human cells to deliver anti-cancer gene therapy for tumours treatment is the small number of cells that ultimately reach tumours to effectively attack them, but this new approach may overcome this problems.
The method will require inserting nanomagents into monocytes, a type of white blood cell used to carry gene therapy, and injecting the cells into the bloodstream. Later, a small magnet was placed over the tumour to create a magnetic field and found that this attracted many more monocytes into the tumour.
"The use of nanoparticles to enhance the uptake of therapeutically armed cells by tumours could herald a new era in gene therapy - one in which delivery of the gene therapy vector to the diseased site is much more effective. This new technique could also be used to help deliver therapeutic genes in other diseases like arthritic joints or ischemic heart tissue," explained Professor Claire Lewis at the University of Sheffield.
Professor Jon Dobson from the University of Keele, said: "Though the concept of magnetic targeting for drug and gene delivery has been around for decades, major technical hurdles have prevented its translation into a clinical therapy. By harnessing and enhancing the monocytes' innate targeting abilities, this technique offers great potential to overcome some of these barriers and bring the technology closer to the clinic."
Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Director of Science and Technology, said: "This exciting work could have huge implications in healthcare. Fundamental bioscience research may sometimes seem to have little relevance to everyday life, but understanding the basic workings of the human body and harnessing nanoscale technology has resulted in a process of great potential in tumour therapy."
The researchers are now focusing on how effective magnetic targeting is at delivering a variety of different cancer-fighting genes, including ones, which could stop the spread of tumours to other parts of the body.
The study is published online in the journal, Gene Therapy.