‘Cargo Ships’ Target Cancerous Tumors

    Researchers at UCSD, UC Santa Barbara and MIT have reported the development of a “cargo-ship” mechanism aimed to target cancerous tumors and destroy them during the early stages of growth while also circumventing removal by the immune system.

    Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD who headed the team of chemists, biologists and engineers responsible for creating the capsules, describes the new technology as protective “mother ships” containing drugs that would usually be destroyed by natural bodily processes.

    Fastened to the capsules is F3, a protein that attaches itself to cancerous cells in order to target tumors with greater accuracy. Researchers hope these capsules will lead to devices that can one day deliver large concentrations of anti-cancer drugs to tumors without being accidentally released to other non-malignant parts of the body, an obstacle that continues to challenge cancer researchers. The hull of the capsule has been constructed from a strong enough material to prevent this toxic anti-cancer material from being released into the bloodstream.

    The “cargo-ships” are also loaded with iron oxide nanoparticles, which will improve the diagnostic imaging of cancerous tumors in magnetic resonance imaging scans. Sailor hopes that better image quality will lead to earlier detection of small tumors that would usually go unnoticed, thus allowing them to be treated before they spread any further.

    “One can imagine a surgeon identifying the specific location of a tumor in the body before surgery with an MRI scan, then using fluorescence imaging to find and remove all parts of the tumor during the operation,” Sailor said.

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