Biomedical Engineering Blog

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Nanoparticles On Attack

Posted September 05, 2012 12:09 PM by Chelsey H

A limiting factor in cancer treatments is that patients can't tolerate the combination of different drugs that are attempting to kill the disease. A Boston based biotech company called Cerulean Pharma has developed a system that will make it easier for doctors to attack tumors by killing the cells before they can develop resistance to any one compound. The nanoparticle-delivered drugs have fewer and less severe side effects.

Image Credit: Planet Tech

The Problem

Oliver Fetzer, the CEO of Cerulean, notes that cancer cells can develop resistance to individual drugs very quickly. Even within a tumor, different cells can have different genetic mutations meaning that a drug that kills cancer cells in one part of a tumor may not work on other cells. The best solution is to attack the cancer cells with multiple drugs at the same time, but this is currently a struggle for many patients and doctors.

The Solution

Nanoparticles developed by Cerulean may be able to achieve the multiple drug attack since they are too big to get out of blood vessels and into health tissues, but the right size to get into tumors via the blood vessels that grow around cancer tissue. This cancer tissue has pores or gaps that aren't found in healthy tissue. "These nanoparticles find their way into the tumor through the leaky [blood vessels], so they can't really escape out of your normal bloodstream in the healthy tissue," says Fetzer.

Once inside the tissue, the nanoparticles slowing break down and release the drug a little at a time. Current cancer drugs are held together by polymer meshes or inside of fatty capsule, but the nanoparticles described are connected by a chemical bond. The breakdown of the chemical bond is the mechanism which releases the drug. The rate of this release is controlled by an enzyme in the body and the rate can be adjusted by using different linkers.

Image Credit: Cerulean

The Next Step

Cerulean has conducted early clinical trials of the lead compound. The compound is called Camptothecin, it is a nanoparticle which contains a drug that is too toxic to be administered on its own, but as a compound with the nanoparticle it is well tolerated. The patients in the trial experience fewer and milder side effects than those given the current standard treatment. Cerulean expects the results from their human trials of its lead compound in treating lung cancer to be finalized by the end of 2012. Testing is also being done with that compound on ovarian cancer and a phase 1 trial will begin soon for patients with kidney cancer.

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