Nanoparticles to fight breast cancer? A California scientist is working on it

Tiny cancer-fighting agents are poised to play a big role in the future of chemotherapy.

The breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure has awarded a UC Davis researcher $450,000 for the development of nanoparticles capable of effectively targeting and destroying tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

The grant, given to Dr. Lorenzo Berti, is a part of $3.2 million the foundation plans to invest in California cancer research institutions beginning in 2010.

The technology exploits a unique weakness in the blood vessels that feed malignant tumors – they leak.

"These blood vessels, unlike normal blood vessels, have big holes in them," said Berti, a UC Davis research chemist in nanotechnology.

Particles about 100 nanometers on a side will travel normally elsewhere in the bloodstream but fall out when they get to the tumor, leading to a natural accumulation in troubled areas.

"What we want to put on these nanoparticles is a combination of two drugs," he said.

The first weakens cancer cells and makes them more susceptible to medication, he said. The second is a classic chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin. "Very effective but also very toxic," he said.

Traditional chemotherapy poisons the whole body.

"They're stupid drugs," said surgeon Ernie Bodai of Sacramento's Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. "They don't know the difference between good tissue and bad tissue."

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