Heat-seeking cancer drugs could target tumours and spare healthy tissue


Bubbles containing cancer drugs which burst on contact with tumours are being developed by scientists

Miniature heat seeking ‘grenades’ full of cancer drugs which target tumours without damaging healthy tissue, have been created by scientists.

Researchers at Manchester University have repurposed bubble like structures in the body called liposomes which they can pack with chemotherapy medication and send right into the heart of cancerous cells.

The liposomes are usually used in the body to deliver molecules into cells, but scientists realised they could use them to take drugs directly to tumours.

“These liposomes could be an effective way of targeting treatment towards cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed”
Professor Charles Swanton

Now they have fitted them with a heat-activated trigger so that when they encounter a warm tumour they ‘burst’ releasing medication into the cancer cells.

Kostas Kostarelos, study author and professor of nanomedicine at the University of Manchester, said: “Temperature-sensitive liposomes have the potential to travel safely around the body while carrying your cancer drug of choice.

“Once they reach a ‘hotspot’ of warmed-up cancer cells, the pin is effectively pulled and the drugs are released. This allows us to more effectively transport drugs to tumours, and should reduce collateral damage to healthy cells.”

Tumours are then heated to 42 degrees, which is a few degrees hotter than core body temperature and the drugs will not work until they encounter that level of heat.


2.5 million
Number of people living with cancer in the UK

Percentage of deaths due to cancer of the breast, lung, prostate and bowel (2012)

Adults diagnosed with cancer survive for ten years or more (2010/11)

1 in 4
People facing poor health or disability after cancer treatment

Cancer deaths caused by smoking

Age group with highest risk of getting cancer

Number of children diagnosed with cancer every week
Source: Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK

Although the drug delivery system has so far only be trialled in mice, researchers are confident it will also work in humans.

The research was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

Professor Charles Swanton, chair of the 2015 NCRI Cancer Conference, said: “Liposomes are small bubbles of cell membrane that act like a cellular postal service, delivering molecules to our cells.

“Using them to deliver cancer medicines has been a holy grail of nanomedicine. But finding ways to accurately direct the liposomes towards tumours has been a major challenge in targeted drug delivery.

“These studies demonstrate for the first time how they can be built to include a temperature control, which could open up a range of new treatment avenues.

“ This is still early work but these liposomes could be an effective way of targeting treatment towards cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.”

Article brought to you by Josh Ferguson.

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