UCLA scientists have come up with a new weapon against cancer that sounds like it was dreamed up by a science fiction writer: A microscopic degradable pill that can deliver targeted treatments that kill tumor cells without harming healthy tissues.
Research on the tiny capsule, detailed in the journal Nano Today, has only been tested on laboratory mice bred to develop human breast cancer. But the findings were so promising — with the pill producing significant reductions in tumor growth — the research team predicted it will also be effective in human cancer patients and opens the door to an entirely new weapon against disease.
"This approach is potentially a new way to treat cancer," said lead researcher Yi Tang, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California-Los Angeles. "This is a unique way to treat cancer cells and leave healthy cells untouched."
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The capsule developed by the team is made of a water-soluble material and can safely deliver a protein — called apoptin — that effectively triggers cancer tumor cells to die. The shells of the capsule — roughly half the size of the smallest bacteria — degrade harmlessly in the body, Tang said.
Tang's group now plans to refine the technology and explore ways of more precisely targeting tumors, prolonging the circulation time of the capsules in the body, and delivering other anti-cancer agents that have the potential to destroy tumors.
The research was funded by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation and the congressionally authorized Medical Research Program.
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