Nanoliposomes engineered to deliver chemotherapy

Researchers at the John Wayne Cancer Institute (JWCI), Penn State College of Medicine and the University of Connecticut are testing microscopic nanoliposomes engineered to deliver therapeutic drugs that can both kill malignant cells and cripple a cancer's ability to resist further attack.

Myles C. Cabot, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory of Experimental Therapeutics at JWCI, has been studying ceramide, a family of lipid molecules composed of sphingosine and a fatty acid, that occur naturally in the body. Among its biological roles, ceramide is part of a regulatory system that prevents cancer cells from growing and triggers cell death.

Cabot's work centers on a soluble, short-chain version called C6-ceramide which enters cancer cells more easily than long-chain molecules. C6-ceramide has been shown to kill malignant cells, but eventually, the cells acquire the ability to chemically convert ceramide into an inactive form, allowing the cancer to start growing again.

The nanoliposomes being tested are particles with diameters measured in billionths of a meter, with an exterior coat of C6-ceramide encapsulating tamoxifen, a well-known anticancer drug. As C6-ceramide is relatively soluble, it dissolves, releasing the tamoxifen, however the combination should effectively increase ceramide's residence time, allowing it to kill the cancer without being deactivated.

"We have already shown that C6-ceramide effectively retards growth of cancer cells," says Cabot. "By combining ceramide with tamoxifen we've created a synergistic combination that we hope will effectively induce cell death in cancer models."

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