Nano "Cluster Bomb" Could Fight Cancer, Extend Lives
As boomers get older, we tend to worry more about the Big C--and unfortunately, those fears are justified. As this 2007 article from the scientific journal Nature details, scientists have discovered that the biological processes of cancer and aging, while different and separate, are woven from similar molecular threads.
But maybe we don't have to be so fatalistic: A breakthrough announced this week by scientists at Israel's Tel Aviv University holds out the possibility of dramatically improving the chances of surviving many types of cancers that have been difficult to treat.
Dan Peer, a nanotechnologist and cell and immunology expert, and Rimona Margalit, a professor in the university's biochemistry and molecular biology department, have invented an incredibly tiny--think molecular scale--device that enters the body and directly attacks cancer cells without damaging the healthy cells around them or affecting the rest of the body. The device could spare cancer patients the unpleasant, often-debilitating ordeal of undergoing full-body chemotherapy and also may provide a vastly more efficient way to deliver anti-cancer drugs.
Peer likens the new nanotechnology treatment to a "cluster bomb," a type of munitions that release smaller bomblets when a target is reached. As Peer explains, the outer coating of the nanodevice is fashioned from a sugar molecule that tricks cancer cell receptors into letting it in.
"When the nanovehicle interacts with the receptor on the cancerous cells, the receptor undergoes a structural change and the chemotherapy payload is released directly into the cancer cell," Peer says. He envisions the treatment being used to fight a wide range of cancers, including blood, lung, pancreatic and brain cancers.
After the device does its job, it would decompose. Because it is made of organic materials, it would pose little risk to cancer patients, making treatment much safer, the scientists say.
Peer and Margalit are working with a U.S. company, ORUUS Pharma, which has licensed the technology, according to a university news release. Peer says he expects clinical trials to begin within two years.
In the meantime, for some things that you can do to alter the cancer odds in your favor, look at this National Institutes of Health web page.
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