Barcode trick forces cancer to gulp drugs

"It looks like this could be a universal strategy to increase the uptake of drugs into different kinds of cells involved in many types of diseases," says Arwyn T. Jones. (Credit: francisco delatorre/Flickr)

Many drug treatments do not work in patients because the drugs can’t reach the intended targets inside cells. To address this, researchers are testing a new way to improve the delivery of a relatively new class of drugs called biotherapeutics.

These drugs include antibodies, such as Herceptin, that target breast and stomach cancer cells. Cancer cells often contain a unique protein on their surface that acts as a barcode, uniquely identifying these cells as cancerous against their healthy counterparts.

In a recent study published in Molecular Therapy, researchers describe experimenting with new ways to target breast cancer cells with Herceptin, which interacts specifically with a barcode protein called Her2.

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Scientists know this protein barcode is a major driver of cancer cell growth and division.

The team from Cardiff University manipulated how Herceptin interacts with Her2, which sits on the surface of some breast cancer cells.

As a result, cancer cells rapidly engulfed Herceptin, which then proceeded to destroy the protein barcode.

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Lead author Arwyn T. Jones, a professor from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, believes this new approach for drug delivery—called “receptor crosslinking”—could be used to target a wide range of diseases, from different types of cancers and inherited genetic diseases to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

“The striking thing is that we have tested our approach on both Her2, as well as other barcode proteins, and each one gave the same result,” Jones says. “It looks like this could be a universal strategy to increase the uptake of drugs into different kinds of cells involved in many types of diseases.”

The EPSRC funded the research.

Source: Cardiff University