A nano ray of hope for breast cancer patients

Sunday, 2 June 2013 - 7:00am IST | Agency: DNA
IIT-B prof finds way to reduce drugs toxicity.

Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy may have intensified the debate on breast cancer, but the number of women affected by it only continues to rise.

One of the many causes of fatality is the high toxicity of the treatment and the current disability of affected cells to absorb the dosage.

Patients do not respond to hormonal therapy and require more than one chemotherapy drug for treatment. Unfortunately, such combination chemotherapy increases the toxicity of the treatment, often limiting the extent of therapy tolerated.

Many women with triple negative breast cancer develop “multi-drug resistance” making  them insensitive to anti-cancer drugs.

However, there’s a ray of hope for the millions of women suffering from breast cancer: Professor Rinti Banerjee’s research. Assimilation of drugs according to Banerjee’s books will give greater hope of recovery for the patients.

“The way anti-cancer drugs are administered today are through intravenous chemotherapy, which means two separate drugs like paclitaxel and doxorubicin are injected into the system separately,” said Prof Banerjee, who heads the nanomedicine laboratory in the department of Biosciences & Bioengineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B).

“Two things happen. These drugs being high on toxicity randomly kill normal and rapidly dividing cells (like blood cells), while only a fraction actually reaches the cancer. Second, the drug-resistant cancer cells have a tendency to survive in spite of treatment by throwing out the drugs using tiny pumps that the cancers develop on the cells’ surfaces. We need to devise ways to trick the cancer cells into taking the drug,” she says.

She has devised a method by which these drugs can be administered effectively and will be low in toxicity. “We, in the nanomedicine lab at IIT-B, have created a smart onion-like nanoshell which can be ingested orally. This is taken up by cancer cells as a nutrient and they release the drug in the tumour sites because of specific enzymes in the cancer, thus reducing the overwhelming side-effects and toxicity,” explains Prof Banerjee.

The nanoparticles are packaged to imitate components of cells and nutrients so that the cancer cells are lulled into accepting the dosage.

“We have conducted lab and animal tests confirming the superior efficacy and reduced toxicity of the oral nanocapsules. We are looking for funds and partners for further regulatory studies prior to clinical trials,” says Prof Banerjee.

“It can lead to a safe and patient-friendly way of delivering anti-cancer drugs more effectively. But it is still a couple of years before it sees the light of day,” she said.


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