Targeted Drug Delivery: Promising New Assault on Cancer
By Shlomo Maital
According to today’s Haaretz newspaper, one of my Technion colleagues, Dr. Avi Schroeder (see photo), of the Chemical Engineering faculty, has developed a promising new innovation for curing cancer. He heads the Laboratory for Targeted Drug Delivery and Personalized Medicine Technology.
“Being an engineer, I thought of an engineering approach to prescreen drugs on a personal basis BEFORE we begin a treatment cycle,” he explains.
The idea is simple. It is like testing for an allergy, by scratching the skin and applying a tiny amount of the allergenic material. In Schroeder’s approach, the cancer patient is given a battery of drugs, in miniscule doses – and then tested to see which if any actually reach the tumor, penetrate the cancer cells (which have clever defences) and kill them. There are over 200 different anti-cancer drugs. Each individual may react differently to them, depending on their genetic makeup and the type of cancer they have, and even depending on their gender. (Thanks to studies done at Univ. of California, Irvine, we now know that women react completely differently to drugs than men – and America’s FDA now requires drug testing to include gender in the clinical trials, both for mice and for humans, to see if there are indeed differential gender effects).
In his method, Schroeder creates nanoparticles containing drugs “barcoded” with DNA. The process of attaching DNA to each molecule of the drug is not expensive any more, because DNA has become quite cheap. These nanoparticles are injected into the patient’s blood stream. They travel around the body and when they identify a tumor, the particles penetrate its cells through micro-fissures that cancer cells typically have. The drugs are then released into the cells. Some of the drugs will work and kill the tumor; some won’t. To find out, the tumor is then biopsied, and cells are examined individually. The dead cells are separated from the living ones to see “which drug barcode is the most associated with killing cancer cells, and which are not.”
So far, testing is in the preclinical stage. Schroeder is looking for financing to bring the idea to market. The beauty is, it is based on drugs that already exist.