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Microscopic Trojan Horses

The biggest challenge to killing cancer cells is the “protective armor” or shield around a tumor — that’s according to Professor Mansoor Amiji of the Bouve College of Health SciencesSchool of Pharmacy.

Amiji’s lab is trying to find ways to break through that barrier using nanomedicine. Cancer cells grow in acidic, oxygen-deprived environments — not the most hospitable of vacation homes. But the little beasts adapt to overcome those challenges. “The cells become more aggressive because of the micro-environment,” says Amiji. “We’re trying to program them to become more tame. Cancer cells lack cell death molecules — we want to put them back in, bring cancer back to the baseline so the cells can be killed efficiently with lower doses of chemotherapy.”

Amiji calls the nanomaterials he’s using to target and kill cancer cells “smart luggage”: nano-sized particles decorated with small molecules specifically designed to target the cancer cell and coax their way through the tough outer shell. Once a particle finds itself inside a cancer cell, they are internalized and release the toxic payload inside. This strategy also reduces excessive side effects of cancer drugs.

This Trojan horse may be small, but it’s no less aggressive toward its enemies.

Photo: GE Healthcare, “Carolin Zehetmeier, Morphosys AG, Germany” January, 2010 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

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