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SQI: Simpson Querry Institute

‘Trojan horse’ delivery system helps chemo drug wipe out tumors

Nathan Gianneschi and colleagues have developed a new drug-delivery system that disguises chemotherapeutics as fat in order to penetrate and destroy tumors.

“It’s like a Trojan horse,” said Gianneschi, an SQI faculty member who led the research. “It looks like a nice little fatty acid, so the tumor’s receptors see it and invite it in. Then the drug starts getting metabolized and kills the tumor cells.”nathan-gianneschi-portrait.jpg

The researchers engineered the targeting system by creating a long-chain fatty acid with binding sites on each end, able to attach to drugs.

In the study, the system carried an FDA-approved chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel, into tumors in a small animal model. The drug completely eliminated the tumors in bone, pancreatic and colon cancer.

Gianneschi and coauthors also found they were able to deliver 20 times the dose of paclitaxel with their system compared to two other paclitaxel-based drugs. Even with the higher quantity, the drug in the new system was 17 times safer.

“Commonly used small-molecule drugs get into tumors — and other cells,” Gianneschi said in a Northwestern University press release. “They are toxic to tumors but also to humans. Hence, in general, these drugs have horrible side effects. Our goal is to increase the amount that gets into a tumor versus into other cells and tissues. That allows us to dose at much higher quantities without side effects, which kills the tumors faster.” 

Read the full study, which was published online July 18 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and was featured as a cover article of the journal's Sept. 4 issue.