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Researchers create lung cancer ’cluster bombs’


The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker may be more famous, but the pharmacist, the engineer, and the doctor may be onto something big.

The latter group has combined resources and knowledge to create a novel way to deliver a new lung cancer treatment. The new system, which uses "nanoparticle cluster bombs," has proven effective in treating cancerous lung cells in vitro (in a petri dish), it was reported today in the International Journal of Pharmaceuticals. The research team from the University of Alberta will conduct in vivo tests (in live specimens) early this year, with plans for clinical trials to follow.

"Based on what we’ve been able to do so far, we have practical hopes that a new lung delivery platform for lung cancer can be established," said Dr. Raimar Loebenberg, a professor of pharmacy at the U of A.

The three researchers - Loebenberg; Dr. Warren Finlay, a U of A mechanical engineering professor; and Dr. Wilson Roa, a U of A oncology professor - have applied for a patent on the lung cancer nanoparticle drug delivery system.

Loebenberg explained that the drug sits in powder form in the inhaler, which is similar to the device that asthmatics use. However, the difference between regular drugs and "nanoparticle cluster bombs," Loebenberg said, comes when the powder arrives in the lungs, where it dissolves into nanoparticles upon contact with moisture in the lung -usually mucous.

Each grain of drug powder contains "a few thousand nanoparticles," Finlay explained. "Once the nanoparticles are active in the lung they have a tremendous advantage over regular drugs, because they are better able to do exactly what we want them to."

The idea is that the nanoparticles can be programmed to escape immune system surveillance like a Trojan Horse, and carry designer drugs that target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

"This drug and this delivery system have a lot of potential--there are a lot of different things we can do as we’re able to control where and when the nanoparticles release their payload," said Finlay, who also has a patent pending on a new inhaler to go with the nanoparticle drug platform. "This platform system may be just the beginning. We’re looking at a lot of cool things we can do down the road."

"At this point, we’re excited and encouraged about what we’ve done and what we could do in the future," Loebenberg said, adding that the progress is due to the interdisciplinary collaboration between experts in three fields.

"This was not the result of one brain, but three," he said. "At first, when we started working together we didn’t understand each other very well, but now I think we make a pretty good team, and I think we’ve created something that has good potential for a solution to lung cancer."

The researchers can be reached at:
Dr. Warren Finlay 780-492-4707 or
Dr. Raimar Loebenbert 780-492-1255 or
Dr. Wilson Roa 780-432-8517 or

Ryan Smith | EurekAlert!
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