October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and Israeli scientists have discovered a major breakthrough in the fight against this insidious disease that affects one in eight women. Avi Schroeder, head of the targeted drug delivery and personalized medicine group at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, has been working on innovative breast cancer treatments for years and recently his team found a way to slash the growth of cancerous breast tumors by half.
The scientists injected nanoparticles of a popular analgesic directly into the cancer cells. The analgesic, bupivacaine, uses a unique delivery system that specifically targets the nerve cells housed in the tumor. The nerve cells have a symbiotic relationships with the cancer cells, enabling them to thrive, says The Jerusalem Post. The researchers injected the nanoparticles into the blood of mice and the drug, using its own GPS system, made its way into the tumor, severing the connection between cancer and the nerve cells.
This not only slowed the growth of the tumors but made it difficult for them to spread or metastasize. The cancerous tumors in mice that were treated with the novel technology grew threefold in three weeks, while untreated tumors grew eight times their original size in the same period. The nanoparticles were treated with a type of polymer that allowed them to slip undetected through the immune system until they found their target, says the Post.
The research was published in the journal Science Advances and was peer reviewed. The authors wrote that their findings suggest that reducing nerve involvement in tumors is important for treating cancer, according to The Times of Israel.
“We wanted to reduce the aggressiveness of tumors by killing the nerve cells that are inside the tumor tissue, and we succeeded in doing exactly this,” said Maya Kaduri, a student in Shroeder’s laboratory, who helped conduct the study. “This is very exciting and novel.”
Aside from the mice studies, the scientists were able to duplicate the reduced tumor growth in vitro. Kaduri told The Times of Israel that she hopes that after development and clinical testing it will give rise to a new tool to fight cancer.
“Cancer cells recruit nerve cells for their own use, cause them to penetrate the tumor tissue and then secrete all sort of substances that help the tumor,” she said. “We saw that the presence of neutron cells in cancer cells was strengthening the cancer and wanted to use nanoparticles to combat this.
“We already know how to use nanoparticles as a drug delivery system. So, we sent nanoparticles to the nerve cells inside the tumor and got them to release a local anesthetic called bupivacaine.”
Kaduri said the novel approach of attacking the nerves instead of the tumor itself is groundbreaking and offers great hope in the ongoing fight against cancer.
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