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Tiny packages may pack powerful treatment for brain tumors

Great discoveries do come in small packages. Few know that better than Ann-Marie Broome, Ph.D., who feels nanotechnology holds the future of medicine with its ability to deliver powerful drugs in tiny, designer packages.

Her latest research finds the perfect application – targeting cancerous brain tumor cells.

Results from her recent paper published online in the international journal Nanomedicine – Future Medicine found that a lipid nanocarrier engineered to be small enough to get past the blood-brain barrier could be targeted to deliver a chemotherapeutic drug more efficiently to tumor cells in the brain. In vivo studies showed specific uptake and increased killing in glial cells, so much so that Broome initially questioned the results.

“I was very surprised by how efficiently and well it worked once we got the nanocarrier to those cells,” she said, explaining that initial results were so promising that she had her team keep repeating the experiments, using different cell lines, dosage amounts and treatment times.Researchers and clinicians are excited because it potentially points the way to a new treatment option for patients with certain conditions, such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the focus of this study.

Glioblastoma multiforme is a devastating disease with no curative options due to several challenges, said Broome, who is the director of Molecular Imaging of the Medical University of South Carolina’s Center for Biomedical Imaging and director of Small Animal Imaging of Hollings Cancer Center. The brain tumor has a significant overall mortality, in part due to its location, difficulty of surgical treatment and the inability to get drugs through the blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier designed to keep a stable environment within and surrounding the brain.

In 40 percent of cases, standard treatments will extend life expectancy 4 to 7 months. “It’s really a dismal outcome. There are better ways to deliver standard of care.”

That’s where Broome and her nanotechnology lab enter in.

Nanotechnology is medicine, engineering, chemistry, and biology all bundled together and conducted at the nanoscale, between the range of 1 to 1,000 nanometers. For comparison, a thin newspaper page is about 100,000 nanometers thick. Broome and her team took what they know about the cancer’s biology and of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), one of numerous growth factor proteins that regulates cell growth and division and is also overexpressed on tumor cells in the brain. With that in mind, they engineered a micelle that is a phospholipid nanocarrier, “a bit of fat globule,” to deliver a concentrated dose of the chemotherapy drug temozolomide (TMZ) to the GBM tumor cells.