MIT: Nanotech treatment kills ovarian cancer in mice

Researchers say nanoparticles deliver killer genes that battle late-stage tumors

Researchers at MIT have killed ovarian tumors in mice using nanoparticles that deliver killer genes to the cancer cells.

The findings, according to MIT, could lead to a new treatment for ovarian cancer. Considered to be one of the most deadly forms of cancer, it is said to cause 15,000 deaths every year in the U.S. alone.

Daniel Anderson, research associate in the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, said in a written statement that human clinical trials could start as early as a year from now. "I'm so pleased that our research on drug delivery and novel materials can potentially contribute to the treatment of ovarian cancer," Robert Langer, a professor at the institute, said in a statement.

Research teams at various universities have been working on different ways to use nanotechnology, which is the engineering of systems at the molecular level, to battle cancer.

In May, MIT scientists announced that they have developed gold nanoparticles that can target tumors and heat them with minimal side effects to nearby healthy cells. The researchers said tumors in mice that received the gold nanorod treatment disappeared within 15 days. The cancer did not reoccur for the duration of the three-month study.

This news comes just months after MIT announced that a group of scientists had developed nanotechnology that can be placed inside living cells to determine whether chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer are reaching their targets or attacking healthy cells. Researchers use carbon nanotubes wrapped in DNA so they can be safely injected into living tissue.

And last August, scientists at Stanford University reported that they had found a way to use nanotechnology to have chemotherapy drugs target only cancer cells, keeping healthy tissue safe from the treatment's toxic effects.

And that news came on the heels of a report out in July 2008 noting that researchers at the University of California, San Diego, had discovered a way to use nanotechnology-based "smart bombs" to send lower doses of chemotherapy to cancerous tumors, thus diminishing the cancer's ability to spread throughout the body.

In the MIT research announced today, nanoparticles basically act as self-guided vehicles that deliver genes to the cancerous tumors. The gene produces a toxin that kills cells by disrupting their ability to manufacture proteins, according to MIT.

While the gene therapy has shown to be as effective as chemotherapy, it doesnt have the same debilitating side effects since the gene is engineered to attack the cancer cells but be inactive in other, healthy cells.

Researchers reported that the nanoparticles are built by combining positively charged, biodegradable polymers with DNA.

Scientists believe the nanoparticles could be used to treat prostate cancer and viral infections. And they plan to study whether they also could be used to fight brain, lung and liver cancers, according to MIT.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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