Nano-tech "smart packages" under development in Australia and China are bringing us closer to more effectively treating cancer with far fewer harmful side effects.
Researchers are developing a novel system to bombard cancerous tumours — and not healthy tissue — with the most potent chemotherapy drugs available after discovering folate and pH-sensitive drug nano-vesicles which quickly release the chemo agents after they react to the cellular makeup of common cancer tumour cells.
This potentially will trigger the instant release of multiple chemo drugs, reducing side-effects and perhaps avoiding surgical removal of difficult to reach lung or ovarian cancers.
Flinders University Strategic Professor Colin Raston says the latest research advances earlier research on more targeted drug delivery which both increases the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs while reducing the sickening side effects of common chemo agents.
"Most current chemotherapeutic agents are associated with debilitating toxicity because they indiscriminately attack both cancerous and healthy cells," says Professor Raston, from Flinders University's Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology.
"We are endeavouring to develop a robust delivery platform that can be readily modified to incorporate targeted and pH-triggered drug release for potent but toxic chemo agents, such as Paclitaxel to ovarian cancer."
The drug delivery vessels, or "smart packages" have been found to release drugs when they leave healthy tissue and enter the different kind of cancer cell environment.
Fellow researchers Dr Jingxin Mo and Professor Lee Yong Lim, respectively working from China's Sun Yat-sen University and the University of Western Australia, say the new system can deliver several drugs at a time in one parcel to a tumour.
"The vesicles also have a strong bio-compatability with human cells, which encourages more efficient drug uptake," they say.
Aiming to overcome the debilitating toxicity of current chemo agents, the new generation of anti-cancer drugs also would have the potential to deliver more than one drug to affected cells.
"The vesicles would have a similar structure as phospholipid bilayer of cell membrane, which would facilitate the anti-cancer drug uptake."
The ongoing research is supported by Dr Paul Eggers at the University of WA and Associate Professor Zhi-xiang Yuan from Sichuan Agricultural University in China.
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world, with more than 1.8 million new cases a year. In 2012, the World Cancer Research Fund International reported almost 240,000 cases of ovarian cancer and more than 14 million cancer cases worldwide. This number is expected to increase to 24 million by 2035.