« Swedish Moon Colony | Main | Basic Education Needed »

A Trojan Horse for Cancer

University of Michigan researcher Dr. James Baker has developed a nanoparticle called a dendrimer that is (pick your metaphor) either a Trojan Horse for cancer, or the hook needed to go fishing for cancer.

Dendrimers can be baited in a variety of ways. Since Dr. Baker knew that cancer cells have a voracious appetite for folic-acid, he attached that vitamin to the dendrimer particle.

Each dendrimer has more than a hundred molecular "hooks" on its surface. To five or six of these, Baker connects folic-acid molecules. Because folic acid is a vitamin, most cells in the body have proteins on their surfaces that bind to it. But many cancer cells have significantly more of these receptors than normal cells. Baker links an anticancer drug to other branches of the dendrimer; when cancer cells ingest the folic acid, they consume the deadly drugs as well.

Anticancer drugs are highly toxic to all cells, not just cancer. Often, particularly with frail patients, chemotherapy can be "kill or cure" treatment. But with this development, patients could be given a fraction of the toxic medicine that would have been required before. A much larger percentage of the medicine gets into cancer cells because cancer hoovers up the body's folic-acid supply.

Simple and elegant.

We linked to a story on this development last June, but it appears that Dr. Baker has been very busy the last ten months.

The approach is versatile. Baker has laden the dendrimers with molecules that glow under MRI scans, which can reveal the location of a cancer. And he can hook different targeting molecules and drugs to the dendrimers to treat a variety of tumors. He plans to begin human trials later this year, potentially on ovarian or head and neck cancer.


Baker has already begun work on a modular system in which dendrimers adorned with different drugs, imaging agents, or cancer-targeting molecules could be "zipped together." Ultimately, doctors might be able to create personalized combinations of nanomedicines by simply mixing the contents of vials of dendrimers.

Such a system is at least 10 years away from routine use, but Baker's basic design could be approved for use in patients in as little as five years. That kind of rapid progress is a huge part of what excites doctors and researchers about nanotechnology's medical potential. "It will completely revolutionize large branches of medicine," says Ferrari [a professor of internal medicine, engineering, and materials science at Ohio State University].

By the way, the "page two" link is not working at the article, but this link to page 2 works fine.


Wasn't Laetril purported to work on a similar basis? Supposedly the cancer cells would gobble it up, free the cyanogen portion of the molecule and be poisoned. It sounded like a rational line of attack, altho the rest of the discussion wasn't as rational.

Post a comment