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Beating Cancer With Brains Not Brutes

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One of my favorite tales from Greek mythology -- an example of wit and wisdom reigning over brutes and barbarians -- is the story of how the Greeks defeated the Trojans sometime in the 12th or 13th century BC.

In what was seemingly a never-ending battle, one that the Greeks appeared destined to lose, the Greek soldiers presented a peace offering to the Trojans in the form of a massive wooden horse.

The Trojans -- full of vanity and arrogance -- accepted the horse -- full of Greek soldiers -- into the walls of their city. At nightfall when the Trojans were fast asleep the Greeks emerged from the horse, set the city on fire and ultimately defeated the Trojans.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who has been impacted by the Trojan horse tale.

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, have found a way to apply the Trojan horse concept to fighting cancer cells.

The research was funded by, among others, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Follow-on Fund and will be published in next week’s journal, Biomaterials.

The London-based researchers have successfully delivered a common chemotherapy drug to cancer cells inside tiny microparticles by coating the microparticles with a special protein called CD95. By disguising these microparticles with CD95, cancer cells willingly accept and ingest the particles -- and ultimately the chemotherapy drug called paclitaxel -- that otherwise would have been rejected by the cancer cells.

The drug, delivered in this way, reduced ovarian cancer tumors in an animal model by 65 times more than using the standard method. This approach is now being developed for clinical use.

Dr. Davidson Ateh, who worked on the research at Queen Mary, University of London and set up the start-up company, BioMoti, which will develop the technology for clinical use said, "It's like we've made a re-enactment of the battle of Troy but on the tiniest scale. In Troy, the Greeks fooled the Trojans into accepting a hollow horse full of soldiers -- we've managed to trick cancer cells into accepting drug-filled microparticles."

“The key to their success is that CD95 attaches to another protein called CD95L, which is found much more commonly on the surface of cancer cells than it is on normal healthy cells. Once attached, the cancer cells ingest CD95 and the microparticle with it. Inside the cell, the microparticle can unload its chemotherapy cargo, which kills the cell to reduce the size of the tumor,” according to a release on the study.

Researchers refer to this type of method as a more graceful and intellectual way to fight cancer than by simply pumping the body full of chemotherapy at large. This discovery can help doctors target cancerous cells only.

Co-author and Professor of Gynecological Oncology at Queen Mary, University of London, Iain McNeish commented, "Chemotherapy is still the main way that we treat ovarian cancer, which can be particularly aggressive and difficult to treat. Anything we can do to concentrate the treatment in tumour cells and at the same time protect healthy cells is a good thing. This is an elegant method and if it works in a clinical setting as well as we hope it will patients could experience a better treatment with fewer side effects."

Hats off to this team of researchers for finding a way to trick the cancer cells -- using brains not brutes -- and paving the way for the future of cancer research and treatment.

‘Trojan Horse’ Particle Sneaks Chemotherapy in to Kill Ovarian Cancer Cells. ScienceDaily. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110912102122.htm

The intracellular uptake of CD95 modified paclitaxel-loaded poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) microparticles. SciVerse. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014296121100843X

Bailey Mosier is a freelance journalist living in Orlando, Florida. She received a Masters of Journalism from Arizona State University, played D-I golf, has been editor of a Scottsdale-based golf magazine and currently contributes to GolfChannel.com. She aims to live an active, healthy lifestyle full of sunshine and smiles.

Reviewed September 14, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Malu Banuelos

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