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Cancer Breakthrough. UMass Team Engineers Nanoparticle
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Cancer Breakthrough. UMass Team Engineers Nanoparticle

A nanoparticle that has the potential to revolutionise disease treatment, including cancer, has been engineered by a team of researchers at the Centre for Bioactive Delivery at the University of Massachusetts.

The research combines two approaches to increase precision and effectively deliver treatment to the specific cells affected by cancer.

Two of the most promising new treatments involve the delivery of cancer-fighting drugs via biologics or antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). 

Biologics or biologic drugs are products made from living organisms or contain components of living organisms.

Biologics can directly substitute for a malfunctioning protein in cells. Meaning they have less serious side effects than traditional chemotherapy. However, due to their size, they are unable to get into specific cells.

ADCs are a new class of highly potent biological drugs built by attaching a small molecule anticancer drug or another therapeutic agent to an antibody. The antibody targets a specific antigen only found on target cells. 

ADCs can target specific malignant cells with microdoses of therapeutic drugs, but the antibodies can only carry a limited drug cargo. 

Since ADCs are more toxic than biologics, increasing the dose of ADCs increases the risk of harmful side effects.

The nanoparticle, called “protein-antibody conjugate” or PAC, contains antibodies that, as Sankaran Thayumanavan described, are like an address on an envelope and the cancer-fighting protein is the contents of that envelope. 

The PAC allows us to deliver the envelope with its protected treatment to the correct address. So, safer drugs are delivered to the right cell… the result would be a treatment with fewer side effects.

Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan – Interim Head of Biomedical Engineering at UMass

“The PAC allows us to deliver the envelope with its protected treatment to the correct address. So, safer drugs are delivered to the right cell… the result would be a treatment with fewer side effects”

At the heart of the PAC is a “polymer brush,” a nanoparticle that the team engineered. This brush does two things. 

First, it is studded with antibodies that are capable of locating individual cancerous cells. Next, the brush has to both hold a sizable cargo of biologics but also keep that dose intact. 

The team found that their nanoparticle could carry four times the therapeutic dose of a typical ADC, and, through a variety of techniques, could be increased many times over.

What our team has done, is to combine the advantages of biologics and ADCs and address their weaknesses. It is a new platform for cancer therapy.

Khushboo Singh – Study Lead Author

The team’s research represents a major milestone in cancer research and their findings could extend far beyond that. 

Bin Liu, one of the paper’s lead authors, believes that the research will extend far beyond cancer to all sorts of genetic diseases or any abnormality that occurs inside a human cell. 

Among the implications, perhaps the most exciting part is that this opens the door to develop cures for certain cancers that have been long considered undruggable or incurable.

Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan

Source: University of Massachusetts

Paper: Angewandte Chemie


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