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Soon, balloons to pop open and deliver anti-cancer drugs

IANS  |  New York 

In a ray of hope for cancer patients, researchers are developing a better drug delivery method by encapsulating the drugs in nanoballoons that would pop open and release exact dose at the affected area without any side effect.

These nanoballoons are tiny modified liposomes that, upon being struck by a red laser, pop open and deliver concentrated doses of medicine.

"Why PoP-liposomes, or nanoballoons, open in response to an otherwise harmless red laser is still a bit of a mystery to us but we have definitely unearthed a new and unique phenomenon. Its potential for improving how we treat cancer is immense," said Jonathan Lovell, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at University of Buffalo.

Currently, chemotherapeutic drugs excel at fighting cancer but they are not so efficient at getting where they need to go.

They often interact with blood, bone marrow and other healthy bodily systems. This dilutes the drugs and causes unwanted side effects.

Roughly 1,000 times thinner than human hair, nanoballoons consist of porphyrin, an organic compound, and phospholipid, a fat similar to vegetable oil.

Like conventional chemotherapy, they would be delivered to patients intravenously.

But because the nanoballoons encapsulate the anti-cancer drugs, they diminish the drugs' interaction with healthy bodily systems.

In lab experiments with mice, Lovell hit the nanoballoon with a red laser at the target site in the body.

The laser triggered nanoballoons to pop open and release the drugs.

As soon as the laser is turned off, the nanoballoons close, taking in proteins and molecules that might induce cancer growth.

Doctors could then be able to retrieve the nanoballoons by drawing blood or taking a biopsy.

The nanotechnology could provide a chemical snapshot of the tumour's environment which otherwise is very difficult to assess.

Human trials could start within five years, Lovell said in a study that appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

First Published: Fri, April 04 2014. 14:08 IST