Scientists at Cancer Research UK have developed a novel way to send a package of anticancer genes straight into a tumour without harming the healthy cells around it.

For the first time, the researchers have successfully employed the use of nanotechnology to pack gene therapy into very small particles and subsequently transport it directly into tumour cells.

Once inside the cancer, the genes work by forcing the cell to ‘commit suicide’, thereby killing the tumour while leaving the surrounding healthy cells unharmed, the study, published online in Cancer Research, has found.

Although the trial was carried out in mice and is yet to be tested in humans, earlier findings have also shown this type of gene therapy has the ability to “shrink tumours and even cure around 80% of the mice given the treatment”, according to CR UK.

Therefore, it is hoped that this type of treatment, when transported straight into the tumour using the nanotechnology method developed by the CR UK researchers, could provide a new hope for patients whose tumours are considered inoperable as they sit too closely to vital organs, as these would remain protected.

Less side effects?
Furthermore, the researchers note that this highly targeted treatment may have less side effects than traditional chemotherapy, which kills all cells – both health and cancerous – in the area it is administered.

“Gene therapy has a great potential to create safe and effective cancer treatments, but getting the genes into cancer cells remains one of the big challenges in this area,” explained study author Andreas Schatzlein, School of Pharmacy, London, adding: “This is the first time that nanoparticles have been shown to target tumours in such a selective way, and this is an exciting step forward in the field”.