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Small and Precise

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The problem with chemotherapy is that it can kill just as many healthy cells as cancer cells. Clinicians have been looking for ways to deliver chemotherapeutic agents to cancer cells in a more targeted manner to spare the healthy cells — a new nanotechnology may be just what they've been looking for, says Katherine Harmon at the Scientific American Observations blog. "A new tumor-targeting, nanoparticle-based compound called BIND-014 is now in clinical trials in people, after showing promise in both mice and monkeys," Harmon says. "Although this first trial is small, with only 17 patients, and still ongoing, researchers are reporting some positive results, and no obvious major safety setbacks." The paper, published in Science Translational Medicine, describes how the researchers used a well-known tumor-specific antigen that targets newly forming blood vessels, and loaded them with docetaxel to be delivered to the tumor.

"But the researchers did not just slap a few proteins on a nanoparticle and send it into tests. They screened more than 100 different nanoparticles with various sizes, surfaces and drug-release capabilities," Harmon adds. "The particles themselves also seem to have a good size and shape to evade the immune system, and they also shows low accumulation in the liver, suggesting they are relatively safe."

The Scan

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