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Tiny bubbles in your body could be better at fighting cancer than chemotherapy

Extracellular Vesicles
Tiny, bubble-like extracellular vesicles (in red) targeting breast cancer cells (in blue) in mice. Michigan State University

Over the past several years, a number of advancements have been made in the world of cancer research, including an artificial beauty spot that could warn you of cancer before symptoms emerge that can be used for early cancer detection and a light-emitting implant that can be used to “zap” tumors.

Now new research suggests that tiny bubbles that already exist in the human body might potentially be used to treat cancer — and could work better than chemotherapy.

Masamitsu Kanada, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University’s Institute for Qualitative Health Science and Engineering has improved a therapeutic approach to delivering genes that can convert certain drugs into toxic agents that can be used to target cancerous tumors.

Essentially, healthy cells in our bodies are always producing “tiny bubbles” called extracellular vesicles (EVs) that transfer generic material like your DNA to other cells. Kanada thinks the nano-sized particles could also be used to transport therapeutic drugs and genes that target cancer cells. His work was recently published in the American Association for Cancer Research.

The research was done through Michigan State University along with Stanford University.

The drugs start out as inactive compounds when they’re put in the body, but when they metabolize in the body, they’re activated and can immediately start fighting diseases like cancer — or even just ease the pain of a headache. 

The difference between the drug and those currently on the market is simply how the drugs are transported to your body. In the case of cancer, the “tiny bubble” method was proven to be 14 times more effective at drug delivery in mice, and it was also more successful at actually killing cancerous tumors.

“Conventional chemotherapy isn’t able to differentiate between tumors and normal tissue, so it attacks it all,” Kanada said in a statement. “This non-specificity can cause severe side effects and insufficient drug concentration in tumors.”

Ultimately the method could help minimize the risk of unwanted immune responses that come with other gene therapies.

A clinical trial of the method, which is separate from Kanada’s work, is expected to begin in the United States soon.

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Emily Price
Emily is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Her book "Productivity Hacks: 500+ Easy Ways to Accomplish More at…
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