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Tiny Biodegradable Capsules Kill Cancer Cells

Protein complex signals cells to self-destruct (Feb. 6)

Tiny capsules could go a long way toward improving cancer treatment, according to researchers at the University of California—Los Angeles.

In an effort to devise a more precise and less invasive approach to the treatment of malignant tumors, the researchers developed biodegradable nanoscale shells that can carry proteins to cancer cells and stunt the growth of tumors without damaging healthy cells.

A new report, published online in Nano Today, describes how the investigators developed tiny shells composed of a water-soluble polymer that can safely deliver a protein complex called apoptin to the nucleus of cancer cells to induce their death. The shells — which, at 100 nanometers, are roughly half the size of the smallest bacterium — degrade harmlessly in noncancerous cells.

According to lead investigator Professor Li Tang, the process does not carry the risk of genetic mutations posed by gene therapies for cancer, or the risk to healthy cells caused by chemotherapy, which does not discriminate between healthy and cancerous cells.

“This approach is potentially a new way to treat cancer,” Tang said. “It is a difficult problem to deliver the protein [apoptin] if we don’t use this vehicle. This is a unique way to treat cancer cells and leave healthy cells untouched.”

Apoptin is a protein complex derived from an anemia virus in birds. The shells’ apoptin cargo accumulates in the nucleus of cancer cells and signals to the cells to undergo programmed self-destruction (apoptosis).

Tests conducted on human breast cancer cell lines in laboratory mice showed significant reductions in tumor growth.

Source: UCLA; February 6, 2013.

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