Brain tumor starved of iron, making chemo more effective

The blood-brain barrier prevents effective treatment of malignant glioblastoma multiforme, which is one reason why this form of brain tumor is so deadly. Increasing the dosage is not an option, since that leads to neurological damage and organ damage. So, way to make anti-cancer therapy more effective is to increase the sensitivity of cancer cells to the drugs. At Penn State's College of Medicine, researchers are doing that by starving the tumor of the iron it needs to grow. The researchers are decreasing the expression of an iron-storing protein in tumor cells.

The researchers used liposomes to deliver small interfering RNA (siRNA), which turns off ferritin in cancer cells. Ferritin is a protein that stores and releases iron. This leaves about a 48-hour window of enhanced sensitivity of cancer cells to treatment. This also reduces the amount of BCNU, a cancer drug with serious side-effects, that's needed. The experiment in mice reduced the amount of BCNU needed by half.

"Our results further indicate that a nanoliposomal delivery mechanism can increase the efficacy of siRNA and optimize the amount of siRNA delivered," researcher James Connor said in a news release. "By silencing the ferritin gene, tumor sensitivity to chemotoxins was increased. The results from this project are a promising initial step toward the development of siRNA gene therapy involving ferritin for the treatment of multiple tumor types."

- read more about the research in Penn State's release