Bio-inspired nano-cocoons may offer the newest method for delivering drugs used to treat the spread of cancer cells. Each bio-engineered cocoon consists of a single DNA strand that manipulates itself into the shape of a ball of yarn measuring 150 nanometers wide. They can carry large amounts of anti-cancer drugs and release them rapidly into the cancer cells once inside. They are also less toxic to patients than other systems which use synthetic materials. Plus, the nano-cocoons are easier to manufacture because scientists built them with a self-assembling nature.
Cancer is caused by out-of-control damaged cell growth due to mutation of a person’s DNA. These damaged cells form tumors that affect the body’s ability to function properly. If they become able to travel through the bloodstream, they invade other cells and destroy them or form new tumors. Leukemia is the only cancer that does not produce tumors. Instead, cancer cells from leukemia involve a person’s blood and blo0d-forming organs as they circulate throughout a person’ s system.
Current treatments for cancer vary depending on a number of factors: the type of cancer a person has, what stage the cancer is in and the person’s age or health status. Doctors typically rely on a number of different types of therapy and palliative care. Current treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, gene therapy, radiation and immunotherapy. The use of bio-inspired nan0-cocoons would fall under the category of immunotherapy.
A remarkable new form of cancer treatment has been offered by these bio-inspired nano-cocoons. The core of the cocoon stores an anticancer medicine called doxorubicin (DOX) and a protein enzyme known as DNase. The DNase enzyme is coated with a layer of thin polymer to prevent it from slicing open the cocoon prematurely. The surface of the cocoon is peppered with folic acid molecules known as ligands that binds it to receptors located on cancer cells and force the cells to suck the nan0-cocoon inside. The cancer cell’s acidic environment then rips apart the polymer coating containing the DNase enzyme and thereby unleashes the doxorubicin that kills the cell.
The research for these bio-inspired nano-cocoons is currently being performed by scientists located at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Co-authors on the research project for these bio-inspired nano-cocoons include three Ph.D. students: Yue Lu, Margaret Reiff, and Tianyue Jiang and Dr. Ran Mo, a former postdoctoral biomedical engineering researcher. The details behind this new way to treat cancer were released Oct. 13 in a paper published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper is titled Cocoon-Like Self-Degradable DNA-Nanoclew for Anticancer Drug Delivery and is authored by Dr. Zhen Gu. Dr Zhen Gu is an assistant professor at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill in the biomedical engineering program.
This project is getting ready to enter preclinical testing. Dr. Zhen Gu is extremely excited about offering this new bio-inspired nano-cocoons delivery system as a new way to treat cancer. He remains hopeful that not only will it be effective for cancer treatment but for other similar diseases as well.
By Valerie Bordeau
Photo by: Sandia Labs-Creativecommons Flickr