September 25th, 2017
Cancer refers to uncontrolled and unregulated growth of cells that are not only non-functional but also deprives normal cells from valuable resources for growth and function. In the last few decades, researchers and investigators have discovered different treatment options to address cancer development and growth; yet most treatment modalities cause serious harm to normal cells as well besides cancer cells.
Fortunately, a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins has showed some hope to fine tune cancer killing mechanism while minimizing the risk of injury or damage to the normal cells.
Experiments carried out by John Hopkins researchers on human malignant prostate cancer cells led to the development of theranostic imaging – an innovational imaging system that minimizes the damage or injury to the normal cells. The process involves targeted tracking of anti-cancer regimens (or chemotherapeutic drugs) to the malignant cells via specialized proteins and enzymes. In simple words, the imaging involves binding the cancer drug with the protein complex of the tumor cells (also known as nanoplex) to facilitate tumor killing process via activation of anti-cancer drug. The imaging also allows the detection of tumor cell surface in order to gauge how much drug has been absorbed into the tumor cells. The results of this study were published in the peer-reviewed journal American Chemical Society Nano.
It is noteworthy that this is the first anti-cancer technique that can precisely control the activity of chemotherapeutic drugs at a molecular level to enhance the effectiveness of the regimen while minimizing the risk of injury to the surrounding normal cells.
Zaver Bhujwalla, senior clinical investigator at Kimmel Cancer Center (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) explained that the primary issue with most anti-cancer regimens is their capacity to hurt both normal as well as anti-cancer cells. The same reason explains the wide range of complications and adverse effects associated with cancer treatment. Experiments on mice also enabled the researchers to minimize the risk of complications associated with prostate treatment by targeting the drugs only to PSMA (also referred to as prostate-specific membrane antigen) proteins.
Bhujwalla, who is also the lead investigator of this study explained that this technique can be used to manage any type of cancer; as all cancers are associated with an increased expression of some surface proteins that can be used to bind or target the anti-cancer drug. Examples include increased expression of cell surface proteins like CXCR4 in the setting of lung, liver and kidney malignancies; and increased expression of HER-2/neu in the setting of breast cancers.
Another core benefit of this imaging technique versus traditional chemotherapeutic regimens is its ability to tag or bind multiple tumor molecules at any given time; thereby enhancing the quality of treatment and making it harder for tumor cells to escape the chemotherapeutic drugs.
Based on the experiments conducted in mice models with human prostate cancer cells; it was observed that increased expression of PSMA makes it more efficient to devise more effective yet safer treatments to kill prostate cancer cells, without affecting normal surrounding tissue with the hazardous effects of chemotherapeutic drugs.
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