A New 'Trojan Horse' Stealth Drug Is Outsmarting Cancer Cells

Researchers have developed a stealthy new method to get chemotherapeutics to tumors without triggering a defense response from cancer cells.
Chris Young

A new drug-delivery system has been developed to stealthily disguise chemotherapeutics as fat in order to catch cancer cells unaware.

In animal tests, the drug has been shown to successfully outsmart, penetrate and destroy tumors of three common cancer types.


A new delivery system

By binding a chemotherapy treatment to fat, which cancer cells essentially feed on to grow, the new form of treatment can 'outsmart' cancer cells, making them feed on something that will suppress and destroy them.

As Science Daily reports, the drug is also lower in toxicity than current chemotherapy drugs, meaning it would lead to far fewer side effects.

A New 'Trojan Horse' Stealth Drug Is Outsmarting Cancer Cells
Cancer cells. Source: skeeze/Pixabay

A 'Trojan horse'

"It's like a Trojan horse," research leader Nathan Gianneschi from Northwestern University told Science Daily.

"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."

In the study, researchers used the novel drug delivery system to carry the common, FDA-approved chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel, to tumors that had grown in a test animal.

The drug successfully entered and completely eliminated the tumors caused by three cancer types: bone, colon and pancreatic.

A New 'Trojan Horse' Stealth Drug Is Outsmarting Cancer Cells
New drug delivery system disguises a common chemotherapy drug as a long-chain fatty acid. Source: Nathan Gianneschi/Northwestern University

As Professor Workman chief executive of The Institute for Cancer Research, told the Daily Mail: "Cancer's ability to adapt, evolve and become drug resistant is the cause of the vast majority of deaths from the disease and the biggest challenge we face in overcoming it."

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This new method, in principle, doesn't trigger this 'evolution' in cancer cells that can repair themselves and become resistant to treatment after the first course of chemotherapy. 

Stronger and safer treatment

The researchers also found that they could give a much higher dose (20 times) than is the standard, while still providing a treatment that is 15 times safer.

"Commonly used small-molecule drugs get into tumors — and other cells," Gianneschi said. "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."

The study was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) on July 18. Cassandra E. Callmann is the paper's first author, while Nathan Gianneschi was the lead researcher for the study.

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