Scientists Successfully Test Drug That Can Kill Cancer Cells Without Harming Nearby Healthy Tissue

New reports said scientists in Scotland have successfully tested a new drug that can destroy cancer cells while leaving surrounding healthy tissues unaffected.

According to Scottish broadsheet, The Herald, researchers at the University of Edinburgh mixed a tiny “cancer-killing molecule,” called SeNBD, with a chemical food compound and “tricked” cancer cells into engulfing it – and the combination has been termed as “Trojan Horse.” 

The report noted that the scientists used zebrafish and human cells for the experiment and the study has already been peer reviewed although more research needs to be done to see if the breakthrough is indeed safe to treat early-stages of cancer including drug-resistant bacteria.

The Herald wrote: “Cancerous cells are ‘greedy’ and need to consume high amounts of food for energy and they typically ingest more than healthy cells, said the University of Edinburgh. By coupling SeNBD with a chemical food compound it becomes the ‘ideal prey for harmful cells’ which ingest it ‘without being alerted to its toxic nature.’”

It added that the SeNBD molecule is a light-activated “photosensitizer,” which means “it kills cells when activated by light.” 

Furthermore, this would allow surgeons to “use the combo to target cancer cells” only while leaving other healthy cells intact. 

“Switching on the drug with light means a surgeon could decide exactly where they want the drug to be active, avoiding the chances of attacking healthy tissue and preventing the kind of side effects caused by other drugs,” the researchers at the University of Edinburgh said in a press release

“Coupling the drug with a food compound is key to its success. For cells to survive, they must consume chemical components of food – known as metabolites – such as sugars and amino acids for energy.”

The university scientists explained that bacterial and cancer cells “consume higher concentrations and different types of metabolites than healthy cells” and that “pairing SeNBD with a metabolite makes it ideal prey for harmful cells.”

“Until now, most light-activated drugs have been bigger than metabolites, which means bacteria and cancer cells do not recognize them as normal food,” it added.

Important breakthrough in cancer research

Lead researcher Professor Marc Vendrell, chairman of translational chemistry and Biomedical Imaging at the university, noted the importance of the findings in pursuing “new opportunities” in interventional medicine.

“This research represents an important advance in the design of new therapies that can be simply activated by light irradiation, which is generally very safe,” Vendrell said.

“SeNBD is one of the smallest photosensitizers ever made and its use as a ‘Trojan horse’ opens many new opportunities in interventional medicine for killing harmful cells without affecting surrounding healthy tissue,” he added.

Dr. Sam Benson, another researcher, explained that the medicine works by “delivering” the drug to the “front door of the cell.”

“With SeNBD, we can combine a light activated drug with the food that cancerous and bacterial cells normally eat,” Benson said.

“This means we can deliver our ‘Trojan horse’ directly through the front door of the cell rather than trying to find a way to batter through the cells defenses,” he added.

Cancer data showed that almost ten million people die from cancer every year. It is also among the leading causes of death worldwide with data showing that in 2018, there were 18.1 million new cases and 9.5 million cancer-related deaths worldwide.

The National Cancer Institute said as of January 2019, there were an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors in the United States and the number of cancer survivors is projected to increase to 22.2 million by 2030.

In the US, the most common cancers are breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer.

By 2040, it is expected that the number of new cancer cases per year will rise to 29.5 million and the number of cancer-related deaths to 16.4 million.

Steeve Strange

Steeve is the CEO & Co-Founder of The Scoop.