University of Alberta student researcher Fong Cho in the Prostate Cancer Research Centre in Edmonton, Nov. 20, 2012.
Credits: Catherine Griwkowsky/QMI AGENCY
EDMONTON — Prostate cancer researchers at the University of Alberta are making tiny homing beacons that will detect and deliver drugs that go straight into tumours.
John Lewis says the technology can be used to target tumours directly. This marks a departure from chemotherapy, which kills both healthy and cancerous dividing cells.
"We can potentially use these homing beacons at any stage of cancer progressions. So very early cancers, we can detect them better using these agents and then in late stage cancers we can develop drugs that will specifically hone into the cancer and kill it better," Lewis said.
The U fo A lab sets out to have an impact on patients within five years, Lewis said.
The findings can be applied to other types of cancers.
Fong Cho, lead researcher on the study published in the journal Nano Letters, said the nanoparticles can be used both for imaging and for drug delivery.
"For my purpose, you put in something that binds to your cancer directly to a particle that leads to your cancer and the nanoparticle will light up the cancer," she said.
"You could also, for example, put drugs on it and deliver the drugs specifically to the tumour without harming the surrounding cells and tissues that causes a lot of side effects."
The lab is also looking at ways of identifying and stopping metastasis — what happens when cancer spreads from the main tumour.
Metastasis causes over 90% of cancer deaths, Lewis said.
More research in animals must be completed before the drugs go to clinical trials.