Magic Bullet Technique Effectively Targets Only Cancer Cells

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The idea of “Magic Bullet” is an old medical concept given by a German Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich in 1900. The concept is to develop a medicine that can eliminate all tumor cells quietly without harming normal cells, from any place they might be situated in. Researchers from MU (University of Missouri), have come up with such a specialized technique.

The study evaluates the workings of smart nanoparticles known as aptamers. Aptamers can bind to specific targets along with any therapeutic drug attached to them. The concept can be used to target cancer cells.

Burke-Aguero, working in the Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology in MU, explains that molecules are three-dimensional, and they can have certain small patches attached to them like a molecular Velcro, so that if these molecules come across another molecule with just the right shape and Velcro patch, it can stick against it quite snugly. He further adds that some aptamers can attach this way to those proteins which are abundant on the surface of certain tumor cells and not on normal cells. In this way, these aptamers bind to those proteins and are recycled into the tumor cells themselves along with whatever drug or payload you attach with the aptamer.

Testing this concept, in the latest study, such nanoparticles were engineered along with a fluorescent cargo that imitated and visualized the interaction of a cancer-targeting drug. When these aptamers were placed among target cancer cells as well as non-target cells, the fluorescent cargo was found to be attached to malignant cancer cells, meaning that aptamers reached their successful target cells. The cargo used is ten times larger than the molecular size investigators conventionally work with, according to Burke-Aguero. He says that more ways are open for manufacturing larger cargos which could be used to target various tumor cells in multiple ways.

There are other hurdles to cope up with, such as long-term effects of these aptamers, or other physical aspects that can hamper the way of these drugs from reaching the target cells, for example, the structure of tumors can be poorly vascularized or dense, says Scott Verbridge from Virginia Tech’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

However, Burke-Aguero, calls the study an important milestone in an important journey to make nanoparticle drug delivery more controllable and effective. Hopefully, these aptamers will prove beneficial to be loaded with therapeutic drugs for targeting cancer.