Cancer, in all its forms, can be a very difficult disease to treat as it is our bodies' own cells that have mutated to form the tumors and are in close proximity to healthy cells. This can make surgery impossible but chemotherapy will kill more than just the cancer cells, which is why researchers are working to find means to selectively target cancer cells and preserve their healthy neighbors. Now researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have developed a means to deliver a protein to kill cancer cells, without hurting healthy cells.
The researchers have created shells roughly 100 nm wide out of a water-soluble polymer that are able to enter a cell carrying the protein apoptin. Once within the cell, the polymer degrades and releases the protein which triggers the cancer cell to self-destruct. Healthy cells however are not affected by apoptin, so if the polymer shell were absorbed by the wrong cell, no harm would come to it. An important characteristic of the polymer shell is that it can be produced under mild conditions, so as not to damage the protein it contains.
The researchers have tested this delivery method on human breast cancer cells within lab mice, and resulted in a significant reduction of tumor growth. The researchers are still working on this design though, trying to make it better at targeting cancer cells and survive long in the blood stream.