A team of investigators in the United States is currently working on a new method of destroying cancer cells without damaging the surrounding tissue. They say that the approach, which makes good use of both RNA manipulation and nanoparticle technologies, could also treat many viral infections.
The ultimate goal of the study is to develop ultrastable RNA nanoparticles, which could be used to attack cancer cells inside tumors effectively. At the same time, the therapy needs to be harmless to healthy cells surrounding diseased areas.
At this point, cancer is largely treated using chemotherapy and radiotherapy, both of which are methods that indiscriminately attack cells, regardless of whether they are cancerous or not. This gives rise to numerous side-effects, which do more harm than good to patients, in the long run.
University of Kentucky researchers say that the RNA-based approach would help improve patients' quality of life, by eliminating side-effects, and destroying all cancer cells. At this point, it's difficult to tell if the nanoparticles would eliminate cancer entirely, or prevent it from reoccurring.
The primary mechanism of action for RNA nanoparticle is the regulation of vital cell functions, which are hijacked and distorted when cancer sets in. Details of the new study were published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Nano Today.
The work was carried out in the lab of the UK Markey Cancer Center William S. Farish Endowed Chair in Nanobiotechnology, Peixuan Guo. He worked closely together with the director of the center, Dr. Mark Evers.
“A major problem with cancer treatments is the ability to more directly and specifically deliver anti-cancer drugs to cancer metastases,” Evers explains. The nanoparticles his team created are X-shaped, and able to carry interfering RNA (RNAi).
“Using the nanotechnology approach that Peixuan Guo and his group have devised may allow us to more effectively treat cancer metastasis with fewer side effects compared to current chemotherapy,” he adds, quoted by EurekAlert
“RNA nanotechnology is an emerging field, but the instability and degradation of RNA nanoparticles have made many scientists flinch away from the research in RNA nanotechnology,” Guo adds.
“We have addressed these issues, and now it is possible to produce RNA nanoparticles that are highly stable both chemically and thermodynamically in the test tube or in the body with great potential as therapeutic reagents,” the researcher concludes.