Bio-Inspired Nano-Cocoons Offer a New Way to Treat Cancer

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A new drug delivery system brings us one step closer in the fight against cancer.

Health Social Network

Health Social Network

In the U.S. alone, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), created by the Nixon administration more than 40 years ago to help fight the war, has spent nearly $100-billion in funding, with hundreds of millions more raised and spent by cancer charities and hospital foundations.

There are constant disputes on whether money is being wasted on researches that fail or don't necessarily require that much of a big amount. At the end, we can't put a price limitation on our lives and even if we fail, at least we are getting closer to ending the battle with cancer. An outgoing study is set to be the change we have been looking for.

The research consists of bio-inspired nano-cocoons and offers the newest method for delivering drugs used to treat the spread of cancer cells. Drug delivery, being the most crucial pharmaceutical application, is the most focused area in nanobiotechnology.

Nanobiotechnology is considered by many as the most promising technology of the 21st century with numerous new important applications in medicine and is poised for an indefinite period of healthy growth. According to GIA (The Gemological Institute of America), global market for Nanobiotechnology is projected to reach US$6.0 billion by the year 2017.

The commercial applications of nanobiotechnology in biomedical field are principally directed towards development of novel drug delivery systems, and the trend is likely to remain intact for several years to come.

Current treatments for cancer vary depending on a number of factors: the type of cancer a person has, what stage the cancer is in and the person’s age or health status. Doctors typically rely on a number of different types of therapy and palliative care. Current treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, gene therapy, radiation and immunotherapy. The use of bio-inspired nano-cocoons would fall under the category of immunotherapy.

The research is conducted by scientists located at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Co-authors on the research project for these bio-inspired nano-cocoons include three Ph.D. students: Yue Lu, Margaret Reiff, and Tianyue Jiang and Dr. Ran Mo, a former postdoctoral biomedical engineering researcher.

Each bio-engineered cocoon consists of a single DNA strand that manipulates itself into the shape of a ball of yarn measuring 150 nanometers wide. They can carry large amounts of anti-cancer drugs and release them rapidly into the cancer cells once inside.

The nano-cocoons are less toxic to patients than other systems which use synthetic materials. They are also easier to manufacture because scientists built them with a self-assembling nature.

The core of the cocoon stores a anticancer medicine called doxorubicin (DOX) and a protein enzyme known as DNase. The DNase enzyme is coated with a layer of thin polymer to prevent it from slicing open the cocoon prematurely. The surface of the cocoon is peppered with folic acid molecules known as ligands that binds it to receptors located on cancer cells and force the cells to suck the nano-cocoon inside. The cancer cell’s acidic environment then rips apart the polymer coating containing the DNase enzyme and thereby unleashes the doxorubicin that kills the cell.

"In addition, because we used self-assembling DNA techniques, it is relatively easy to manufacture," says Wujin Sun, lead author of the paper “Cocoon-Like Self-Degradable DNA-Nanoclew for Anticancer Drug Delivery” and a Ph. D student in Gu's lab.

Gu says: "We're very excited about this system and think it holds promise for delivering a variety of drugs targeting cancer and other diseases. This technique also specifically targets cancer cells, can carry a large drug load and releases the drugs very quickly once inside the cancer cell."

The great volume of knowledge accumulated about cancer over the years is one of science’s great accomplishments, however many believe that widespread cures won't happen until our children’s time on earth, expecting a series of small advances and no dramatic breakthroughs. But isn't that the kind of a future we are all hoping for?

The paper, “Cocoon-Like Self-Degradable DNA-Nanoclew for Anticancer Drug Delivery,” was published online Oct. 13 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Co-authors include Yue Lu, a Ph.D. student in Gu’s lab; Margaret Reiff, an undergraduate student in the joint biomedical engineering department; Tianyue Jiang, a Ph.D. student in the joint biomedical engineering department and at the China Pharmaceutical University; and Dr. Ran Mo, a former post-doctoral researcher in the joint biomedical engineering department now at the China Pharmaceutical University.




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