The medical world is one that is constantly changing, and that is most definitely a good thing. After all, the more we know about the human body, as well as all sorts of illnesses and conditions, the better we can keep everyone healthy.
The coronavirus vaccines are examples of huge joint efforts by the world, and it’s perhaps the most ambitious medical project in recent history.
Of course, we also can’t forget that there are plenty of other terrible diseases that need better treatment as well. Like myriad forms of cancer, for example.
While cancer has become quite treatable in recent times if it’s discovered early, it’s still far from ideal and still makes for tons of fatal victims.
Cancer is one of the most researched topics by scientists and doctors.
Every once in a while, we see a promising development that could be the basis to provide better and more efficient treatment in the future. This recent discovery made by researchers from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore is definitely one of them.
The medical researchers who are specialized in nanotechnology describe this experimental cancer treatment as a ‘Trojan Horse’.
It’s a sneak attack, of some sort, and it causes cancer cells to self-destruct. Of course, we all know the real Trojan Horse that was used centuries ago, but the term has also been made popular in the IT-world.
Computer viruses and malware, which appear friendly but then attack a system from the inside, are referred to as Trojans, and that’s pretty much the concept behind this cancer treatment as well.
The essential element is the use of a coated nanoparticle, which contains a specifically adjusted amino acid that triggers the self-destruction.
The amino acid, L-phenylalanine, isn’t native to the human body, but it can be found in plenty of dairy products as well as meat. The amino acid is actually used by cancer cells, as they need it to grow.
Providing the body with more L-phenylalanine seems pretty counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?
The trick is that these amino acids were treated with nanoparticles.
At first, they pose as friendly amino acids, but when they come into contact with the tumor cells, a reaction occurs that makes those cancer cells self-destruct. This nanoparticle, Nanoscopic phenylalanine Porous Amino Acid Mimic, is basically a trojan horse that can be deployed in the human body.
If you’re interested, you can check out the entire scientific process in the study paper, but it basically works like this, in a nutshell- once the nanoparticles interact with the cancer cells, a string of reactions is caused where reactive oxygen species go completely insane, destroying the cancer cells altogether.
While this seems potentially dangerous, these reactions also leave healthy cells alone.
“Against conventional wisdom, our approach involved using the nanomaterial as a drug instead [of] as a drug-carrier,” one of the researchers of the study says.
“Here, the cancer-selective and killing properties of Nano-pPAAM are intrinsic and do not need to be activated by any external stimuli. The amino acid L-phenylalanine acts as a Trojan horse – a cloak to mask the nanotherapeutic on the inside.”
According to the tests that have been concluded in mice, this nanoparticle was able to effectively eliminate about 80 percent of cancerous cells in mice, including breast, skin, and gastric tumor cells. That is about the same result as a chemotherapy treatment – but of course, without all the side effects.
The nanoparticle is safe for humans and has been approved by the FDA.
If this experimental treatment could truly kick-off, we may see the need for chemotherapy disappear completely. Aside from being a replacement for chemotherapy, this treatment could also prove to be extremely useful as a supplemental treatment in addition to chemo.
“This novel approach could hold much promise for cancer cells that have failed to respond to conventional treatment like chemotherapy,” breast cancer specialist Tan Ern Yu from Tan Tock Seng Hospital mentioned, who is an independent expert and wasn’t involved in the study.
You can check out the full academic paper, “Potent‐By‐Design: Amino Acids Mimicking Porous Nanotherapeutics with Intrinsic Anticancer Targeting Properties” at the Wiley online library.
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