One cruel reality about cancer chemotherapy is that what kills cancer also damages other cells in the body. That’s why people going through chemotherapy often lose their hair or have other side effects. In some cases, a dose high enough to truly destroy the cancer could kill a person.
In recent years, a new approach has started circumventing this issue. It involves latching the chemotherapy drug onto an antibody that shepherds the drug directly to the cancer cell, bypassing other cells of the body. But antibodies are quite big and don't infiltrate some tumors; they also can't cross out of the blood system and into the brain.
“Antibodies can be limited for treating solid tumors because they are too big to penetrate well,” Stanford bioengineer Jennifer Cochran, PhD, said. “The idea is that a smaller molecule could diffuse into the tumor better.”
So in recent work, Cochran expanded on the antibody approach by using a (smaller) engineered protein instead. As I wrote in a story on her work:
Cochran’s idea originated with the knowledge that cancer cells, and the blood supply that feeds them, often produce particular molecules known as integrins on their surface. The goal of her team was to create an engineered protein that could latch tightly onto those integrins and be used as a drug delivery vehicle.
She and her team created that engineered protein, and in a lab dish it effectively ushered a chemotherapy drug to tumors. In other experiments, she's shown that the engineered protein also crosses into the brain. Cochran is now working to develop that approach into something that can be tested in people.
Previously: Fast-forwarding evolution to select suitable proteins and New "decoy" protein blocks cancer from spreading
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