Northwestern, Gianneschi et al.

New 'Trojan Horse' Anti-Cancer Drug Disguises Chemo As Fat, Tricking Cancer Cells

Dan 23 Jul 2019

A team of researchers has found a new way to treat cancer. That news would be exciting enough on its own, but there's a fascinating twist — and it all comes down to fooling cancer cells.

It's being described as a Trojan horse.

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Based on the story from an ancient war between Greece and Troy, the term is most often used nowadays to describe computer viruses that use subterfuge to infect systems. In this case, subterfuge is involved — but it's for all the right reasons.

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The paper was published this month.

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Researchers from Northwestern University (home to Feinberg School of Medicine, which has produced groundbreaking medical research for decades) published their findings on July 18 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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It's all about drug delivery.

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Chemotherapy drugs can be effective in treating cancers, but they tend to cast a wide net. These powerful drugs are toxic to tumors, but they're also toxic to other cells and tissues, leading to a host of nasty side effects.

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Target the tumor, not the surrounding area.

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Because of this toxicity, chemo drugs can only be safely administered in limited amounts. But if there was a way for these drugs to directly target tumors, and nothing else, they could be used in larger quantities, leading to better results and fewer adverse side effects.

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The new research is promising.

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Northwestern researchers sought to find a new way to deliver these powerful chemotherapy drugs directly to cancerous tumors. The key was finding a way to make the tumors actively seek out these drugs.

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Chemotherapy drugs...in disguise.

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The drugs present as fats, which tumors actively want. Thus, they allow the drugs in without resistance. Once the drugs are in the tumor, they activate and go to work destroying the tumor.

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Dr. Nathan Gianneschi led the research.

Northwestern University

"It's like a Trojan horse," Gianneschi explained. "It looks like a nice little fatty acid, so the tumor's receptors see it and invite it in. Then the drug starts getting metabolized and kills the tumor cells."

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How is it done?

Northwestern University

Researchers created a long-chain fatty acid with two areas that can attach to drugs. Cancer cells are always hungry in their efforts to grow, and will latch onto the fatty acid. Unbeknownst to the tumor though, this fat is hiding cancer-busting chemotherapy drugs.

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It's exciting for a number of reasons.

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Chemotherapy is a notoriously brutal form of cancer treatment. But when chemotherapy drugs are going more directly to cancerous tumors — and not to otherwise healthy areas — the side effects are less severe.

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It allows higher doses.

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Because this system more directly targets cancerous areas, leaving other areas alone, researchers were able to deliver 20 times the dose of chemotherapy drugs. Impressively, even at these high quantities, the drugs were found to be safer than other administration methods.

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It could lead to great things.

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"In general, these drugs have horrible side effects," said Gianneschi. "Our goal is to increase the amount that gets into a tumor versus into other cells and tissues. This allows us to dose at much higher quantities without side effects, which kills the tumors faster."

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What do you think?

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Just about everyone has seen the effects cancer can take on a loved one. New treatment methods offer hope for the future. Let us know your thoughts on this development in the comments section!

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