Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering have uncovered a new way to target drugs specifically to cancer sites in the body, including metastatic tumors.
Their method uses nanoparticles designed to mimic a mechanism tumors themselves use to metastasize throughout the body. The researchers said their method can be used for a wide spectrum of tumor and drug types, and has the potential to be used for other conditions like vascular and autoimmune diseases.
Their work was recently published in Science Translational Medicine.
About 90% of cancer deaths are attributed to metastatic tumors that are often difficult to treat because most cancer drugs never accumulate in large enough amounts at the tumor site. Often, treatments for metastatic cancers cause side effects due to their activity in healthy tissues.
“The ability to target drugs specifically to metastatic tumors would greatly improve their effectiveness,” Yosi Shamay, lead author of the article, said in a statement.
The researchers, including Daniel Heller, targeted P-selectin, a molecule that forms on the inner walls of blood vessels and facilitates the formation of metastases. By focusing on P-selectin, they discovered a way to hack into the mechanism that cancer cells use to metastasize.
They then filled the nanoparticles with a personalized drug like an MEK inhibitor that acts on cancers with specific mutations. The nanoparticles were much more effective than the drug without the particle, allowing the drug dose to be reduced by more than 85% while avoiding side effects in the skin.
“We found that the nanoparticles were more effective than the drugs normally were, they allowed the administration of lower drug doses, and they reduced side effects,” Heller said.
The researchers also found they could target the nanoparticles to tumors that didn’t even have the target molecule, P-selectin.