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Changing Shape Makes Chemotherapy Drugs Better at Targeting Cancer Cells

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Illustration: Rod-shaped chemotherapy drug nanoparticles bind more efficiently to receptors on cancer cells. Image Source: UC Santa Barbara, Credit: Peter Allen

Bioengineering researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara have found that changing the shape of chemotherapy drug nanoparticles from spherical to rod-shaped made them up to 10,000 times more effective at specifically targeting and delivering anti-cancer drugs to breast cancer cells. Their findings could have a game-changing impact on the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapies and reducing the side effects of chemotherapy, according to the researchers. “Conventional anti-cancer drugs accumulate in the liver, lungs and spleen instead of the cancer cell site due to inefficient interactions with the cancer cell membrane,” explained Samir Mitragotri , professor of chemical engineering and Director of the Center for BioEngineering at UCSB. “We have found our strategy greatly enhances the specificity of anti-cancer drugs to cancer cells.”  To engineer these high-specificity drugs, scientists formed rod-shaped nanoparticles from a chemotherapeutic drug, camptothecin, and coated them with an antibody called trastuzumab that is selective for certain types of cancer cells, including breast cancer. The antibody-coated camptothecin nanorods were 10,000-fold more effective than tratsuzumab alone and 10-fold more effective than camptothecin alone at inhibiting breast cancer cell growth.