Washington, August 15 : Stanford University researchers in the U.S. have devised a way to improve chemotherapy's effectiveness against cancer, and reduce its side effects.
The researchers say that they have found out how to get a higher proportion of a given dose of medications into tumour cells, to avoid "spillovers" that can kill the healthy cells.
They believe that their method can reduce the amount of medication needed to be injected into a subject to achieve the desired therapeutic effect.
"That means you will also have less drug reaching the normal tissue," said Hongjie Dai, professor of chemistry, and senior author of a paper published in the journal Cancer Research.
This advancement attains significance as it may make the medication more effective against the tumour, and greatly reduce its side effects.
In their study, Dai and his colleagues worked with paclitaxel, a widely used cancer chemotherapy drug. They employed it against tumour cells of a type of breast cancer, which were implanted under the skin of mice.
The researchers found that they could get up to 10 times as much medication into the tumour cells via the nanotubes as when the standard formulation of the drug, called Taxol, was injected into the mice.
The group let the tumour cells to proliferate for about two weeks prior to being treated.
After 22 days of treatment, tumours in the mice treated with the paclitaxel-bearing nanotubes were on average less than half the size of those in mice treated with Taxol.
Dai says that the technique holds potential for delivering a range of medications, and that it may also be possible to develop ways to channel the nanotubes to their target even more precisely.
"Right now what we are doing is so-called 'passive targeting,' which is using the leaky vasculature of the tumour. But a more active targeting would be attaching a peptide or antibody to the nanotube drug, one that will bind more specifically to the tumour, which should further enhance the treatment efficacy," he said.
The Stanford team, which is already at work developing more targeted approaches, is optimistic about the potential applications of nanotubes.
"We are definitely hoping to be able to push this to practical applications into the clinic.
This is one step forward. But it will still take time to truly prove the efficacy and the safety," Dai said.