They’re not quite as efficient as Borg technology. But new “nanoprobes” made by combining scorpion venom with tiny metal beads are giving the fight against cancer a big performance boost.
Previous work had shown that chlorotoxin, a chemical derived from the giant Israeli scorpion, affects a protein on the outside of brain tumor cells called MMP-2. This protein is thought to help the cancer cells spread.
Chlorotoxin binds to MMP-2 like a key fitting in a lock. When the chemical latches on, both it and the protein get sucked into the cell.
Fewer MMP-2 sites on a cell surface make it harder for the cancer cell to travel to new regions in the brain.
In a new study, scientists chemically bonded iron oxide nanoparticles with a lab-made version of chlorotoxin to create tiny nanoprobes, each carrying up to 20 chlorotoxin molecules.
“So when a tumor cell uptakes a single nanoparticle, it is absorbing quite a few chlorotoxin molecules at once,” said study leader Miqin Zhang of the University of Washington.
The researchers found that the nanoprobes can halt the spread of brain tumors in mice by 98 percent, compared to 45 percent with the scorpion venom alone.
A company called Transmolecular Inc. is already testing chlorotoxin by itself as a brain cancer therapy for humans.
Researchers say their device, which oxygenates blood outside the body before it goes through the lungs, could be an alternative to transplants.
The Swansea University scientists say it could take many years before the device, the size of a spectacles case, is available.
Lung patients, who have seen how it would work, have welcomed the research.
According to the British Lung Foundation, there are more than 40 conditions which affect the lungs and airways and impact on a person’s ability to breathe.
They include lung cancer, tuberculosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, sleep apnoea, avian flu, bronchiolitis and many others.
Its research suggests that one person in every seven in the UK is affected by lung disease – this equates to approximately 8m people.
As of 6 March 2009, 217 people were on the waiting list for a lung transplant according to figures by NHS Blood and Transplant.
Now scientists in Swansea are developing a portable artificial lung which could transform the lives of patients.
Scientists have taken another important step toward using ordinary skin cells that are made to behave like embryonic stem cells to find treatments for conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts removed a stumbling block in using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, by taking out potentially cancer-causing genes.
Writing in the journal Cell on Thursday, the scientists said they then turned these iPS cells into brain cells involved in Parkinson’s disease.
The iPS stem cells could be made from a patient’s own skin cells, reducing the chances that the body’s immune system might reject the cells as it sometimes does with organ transplants.
Transplanting healthy cells made from iPS cells to replace cells damaged by disease or injury may be possible in the future. But a more immediate use for these cells may be in lab dishes testing the effects of new drugs, according to Dirk Hockemeyer, one of the Whitehead Institute researchers.
Talk about wishful thinking. One might as well ask if there will be a war that will end all wars, or a pill that will make us all good looking. It is also a perfectly understandable question, given that half a million Americans will die this year of a disorder that is often discussed in terms that make it seem less like a disease than an implacable enemy. What tuberculosis was to the 19th century, cancer is to the 20th: an insidious, malevolent force that frightens people beyond all reason–far more than, say, diabetes or high blood pressure.
The problem is, the “cure” for cancer is not going to show up anytime soon–almost certainly not in the next decade. In fact, there may never be a single cure, one drug that will bring every cancer patient back to glowing good health, in part because every type of cancer, from brain to breast to bowel, is different.
Now for the good news: during the next 10 years, doctors will be given tools for detecting the earliest stages of many cancers–in some cases when they are only a few cells strong–and suppressing them before they have a chance to progress to malignancy. Beyond that, nobody can make predictions with any accuracy, but there is reason to hope that within the next 25 years new drugs will be able to ameliorate most if not all cancers and maybe even cure some of them. “We are in the midst of a complete and profound change in our development of cancer treatments,” says Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute. The main upshot of this change is the sheer number of drugs in development–so many that they threaten to swamp clinical researchers’ capacity to test them all.
• 1. Decay-Fighting Microbes
Bacteria living on teeth convert sugar into lactic acid, which erodes enamel and causes tooth decay. Florida-based company ONI BioPharma has engineered a new bacterial strain, called SMaRT, that cannot produce lactic acid—plus, it releases an antibiotic that kills the natural decay-causing strain. Dentists will only need to swab SMaRT, now in clinical trials, onto teeth once to keep them healthy for a lifetime.
• 2. Artificial Lymph Nodes
Scientists from Japan’s RIKEN Institute have developed artificial versions of lymph nodes, organs that produce immune cells for fighting infections. Though they could one day replace diseased nodes, the artificial ones may initially be used as customized immune boosters. Doctors could fill the nodes with cells specifically geared to treat certain conditions, such as cancer or HIV.
• 3. Asthma Sensor
Asthma accounts for a quarter of all emergency room visits in the U.S., but a sensor developed at the University of Pittsburgh may finally cause that number to plummet. Inside the handheld device, a polymer-coated carbon nanotube—100,000 times thinner than a human hair—analyzes breath for minute amounts of nitric oxide, a gas that lungs produce prior to asthma attacks.