New 'bubble' targets only cancer cells

Biochemist: Bubble technology can also be applied to other medical conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, wounds, and infectious diseases.

cancer cell 88 (photo credit: )
cancer cell 88
(photo credit: )
The side effects of chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer can be devastating, but drug-delivery research at Tel Aviv University based on nano- and microtechnology might provide much-needed relief, as well as more effective treatments. New drug-delivery technology developed by Prof. Rimona Margalit of TAU's biochemistry department allows drugs to target specific cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact and thus reducing the side effects of chemotherapy. The science uses tiny bubbles visible only through microscopes that contain payloads of therapeutic drugs. "This development is on the leading edge of drug delivery and cancer treatment," says Margalit. "Bubble technology can also be applied to other medical conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, wounds, and infectious diseases. In 20 years, it could be widespread." Currently, cancer drugs travel throughout the body, delivering powerful medication to all the cells they encounter, both healthy and cancerous. When healthy cells are damaged by unnecessary medication, a patient can experience unpleasant side effects ranging from hair loss to nausea. More worrisome are further health risks due to the damage the medication does to the immune system. The new technology, applied in both cancer and osteoarthritis therapies, was published recently in Nature Nanotechnology and in the Journal of Controlled Release . The technology allows cancer treatment medication to be placed inside bubbles so small that millions fit along a single centimeter. The surface of the bubbles contains an agent that allows them to distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones. When the bubbles "recognize" a cancer cell, they deliver their medication to that cell. Not only does more of the drug get directly to the diseased cells, enhancing the effectiveness of the treatment, but healthy cells continue to function normally. The TAU drug carrier technology has performed well in animal models. The next step is to apply the technology to humans. "Economics is the hold-up, not the science," explains Although the technology is still a decade or more from clinical trials, this promising discovery offers new hope in oncology. SOMETHING TO LAUGH IN The Israel-Hamas war was no laughing matter, but children from Israel and Gaza who suffer from cancer and are being treated in the new "laugh room" at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer nevertheless feel that laughing at it is helping them battle the disease together. The laugh room, located in the pediatric hematology department at Sheba's Safra Children's hospital and dedicated last month by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) with funds donated by the Bronstein and Cherna families in memory of loved ones, has giant dolls, fun-house mirrors, an animated film corner, touch-screen computers and other equipment. Eight-year-old Volla Tnani of Jabalia and six-year-old Nahman Rafael Fadida of Ofakim were at the dedication ceremony with ICA director-general Miri Ziv and Sheba director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein. Imad Tnani, Volla's father, said: "We are two peoples who will always live on the same land. Here, we are all with the same sorrows together, with no differences." Liat Fadida, Nahman Rafael's mother, praised the medical staff for their professionalism and humanity, and for treating everyone the same way. BEWARE THE BOOB TUBE Although TV is regarded as a "perfect babysitter" when parents are busy, allowing toddlers under two to watch can do more harm than good, according to a researcher at the University of Washington. A meta-analysis by Prof. Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children's Research Institute and the university of 78 studies performed over a quarter of a century warns parents to limit the amount of TV very young children watch. He also expresses concerns about DVDs aimed at infants that claim to be beneficial. The studies all looked at the effects TV has on children's language, cognitive skills and attentional capacity. The review, reported recently by UPI, found that as many as nine in 10 American children under the age of two watch TV regularly, and some spend as much as 40% of their waking hours in front of a TV. Published in Acta Paediatrica, the review said watching TV or DVDs aimed at infants can delay language development, and while infants will imitate what they see on a TV screen, they learn better live. "Existing evidence suggests the potential for harm, and I believe that parents should exercise due caution in exposing infants to excessive media," Christakis says. "We believe TV exposes children to flashing lights, scene changes, quick edits and auditory cuts that may be overstimulating to developing brains, while it replaces other more important and appropriate activities like playing or interacting with parents."