In military, missiles equipped with infrared homing are the ones that dash towards targets giving off infrared radiation like the emissions of a jet engine. They are simply called heat-seeker missiles. In the realm of biology and medicine, cancer cells have been observed to grow and multiply much faster than the healthy ones. The fast multiplication demands more food, and receiving more food requires the cancer cells to build up their own blood vessels. The higher metabolism of cancer cells, then, means that cancerous cells are hotter than the surrounding tissue. Now, with the heat-seeking missile technology in mind, could one think of a tech capable of targeting hot cancer cells without damaging the cooler healthy ones? This is exactly the question that a group of British researchers had in mind.
Researchers at Manchester University have made a group of liposomes, the tiny spherical vesicles, heat-sensitive and then filled them with chemotherapeutic agents to target heat-emitting cancer cells.
Built out of cell membrane and usually used in the body to deliver molecules into cells just like cellular postal service, the liposomes are now “heat-activated grenades” that find hot cancer cells and inject lethal contents into the enemy structure to destroy it.
Stable at lower temperatures, the secret armies of heat-activated liposomes “explode” and release their healing contents only at 42 degrees Celsius as soon as they reach the cancer cells.
“Once they reach a ‘hotspot’ of warmed-up cancer cells, the pin is effectively pulled and the drugs are released. This allows us to more effectively transport drugs to tumors, and should reduce collateral damage to healthy cells,” said Kostas Kostarelos, the study author and professor of nanomedicine at the university.
According to Kostarelos, turning liposomes into carriers of cancer medicines has been “a holy grail” of nanomedicine and dispatching liposomes on a new mission could be an effective way of targeting treatment towards cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
The new tech has been tested on a group of mice implanted with colon and rectal cancer tumors, which led to a “greater uptake” of chemotherapy drugs in cancerous tissues with reduced side effects.
The novel findings will be presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool scheduled to open on Sunday.
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