Its a bitter irony of cancer therapy: treatments powerful enough to kill tumor cells also harm healthy ones, causing side effects that diminish the quality of the lives that are saved.
Nanoparticles depicted here among cells (green) show potential as targeted anti-cancer therapeutics.
Image: Paul Trombley, University of Michigan Center for Biologic Nanotechnology
Researchers at the University of Michigans Center for Biologic Nanotechnology hope to prevent that problem by developing "smart" drug delivery devices that will knock out cancer cells with lethal doses, leaving normal cells unharmed, and even reporting back on their success. A graduate student involved in the multidisciplinary project will discuss her recent work---zeroing in on characteristics that make the devices most effective---at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Montreal, Quebec, March 23.
The U-M group is using lab-made molecules called dendrimers, also known as nanoparticles, as the backbones of their delivery system. Dendrimers are tiny spheres whose width is ten thousand times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, explains physics doctoral student Almut Mecke. "These spheres have all sorts of loose ends where you can attach things---for example, a targeting agent that can recognize a cancer cell and distinguish it from a healthy cell. You can also attach the drug that actually kills the cancer cells. If you have both of these functions on the same molecule, then you have a smart drug that knows which cells to attack."
Nancy Ross Flanigan | University of Michigan
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