Scientists harness molecular 'transporter' to boost drug delivery prowess

Scientists have decoded the structure of a transporter molecule--something that already resides in the body--and have an innovative idea for how it can be used for drug delivery purposes. They think they can now design more targeted chemotherapy and anti-viral drugs that the molecule will recognize and carry to a tumor, without hurting healthy tissue.

Think about it: Rather than develop an elaborate drug delivery technology, the idea is to use something in the body that essentially does the same thing the tech would. Pretty forward-thinking, if we do say so ourselves. Duke University researchers made the breakthrough finding, and details of their work are published online in the journal Nature. and the blog are among places to find interesting coverage on the news (the blog story features a brief interview with senior author Seok-Yong Lee, a Duke biochemistry assistant professor).

ABC News notes that development of such drugs is a long way off. Indeed it is, and this early laboratory research (with bacteria) must be repeated and the success duplicated in animals and in human trials. We're talking years before any drug hits the market, if at all. But an expert told the news organization that focusing on a cellular mechanism that could more effectively deliver a treatment through the body to penetrate cancer cells was a good idea.

"If it could be manipulated to help with drug delivery or avoiding the toxicity of these drugs, it could have clinical relevance years from now," the ABC News story quotes Dr. Minetta Liu as saying. She directs translational breast cancer research at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.

By looking at bacteria with similar amino-acid sequences to humans, the research team determined the chemical and physical principals that a concentrative nucleoside transporter molecule uses to recognize nucleosides (which build DNA and RNA) and nucleoside-like chemotherapy drugs, before they bring them from outside to inside the cells. This is an important mechanism to know, they note, because the cells subsequently modify nucleoside-like chemotherapy drugs into nucleotides. They, in turn, become part of DNA in an important cancer-fighting way--the net result stops cancer tumors from functioning and multiplying.

Knowing how the mechanism functions chemically should enable drug developers to fashion treatments that the transporter will recognize and then suck right into a tumor cell, penetrating the target, the researchers believe. And they'd theoretically need less of the drug for maximum result.

- here's the release
- read the Nature abstract
- check out the story
- get the blog piece