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23 March, 2006 - 16:21 By Staff Reporter

Nano-dose to be zapped into cancerous cells

The University of East Anglia has received the backing of the world’s leading cancer research charity to develop a unique nanotechnology-based treatment that can deliver anti-cancer drugs direct to cancerous cells.The University of East Anglia has received the backing of the world’s leading cancer research charity to develop a unique nanotechnology-based treatment that can deliver anti-cancer drugs direct to cancerous cells.

Cancer Research UK’s £150,000 grant will enable the University of East Anglia (UEA) to take the nano-treatment, which combines photodynamic therapy (PDT) with optimised cancer therapies, out of the test tube and into toxicity tests.

Appropriate medication is attached to tiny particles of gold, which is then steered through the body.

While PDT is already offered on the NHS, the drugs used are not what project leader, Professor David Russell refers to as optimised.

Though the patented technology is yet to enter pre-clinical trials, it has already been the subject of a licensing deal with an unnamed UK-based pre-competitive drug development company.

Prof Russell’s UEA team has been working on proof of principle studies in collaboration with a group from Italy for the last 12 months, originally supported by a £60,000 grant from the Iceni Seedcorn Fund.

The group successfully demonstrated the technology’s work with different targets, which highlighted its commercial potential and persuaded Cancer Research to provide funding to take the work onto the next level.

That money comes in next month and will support work over two years.

“The idea is to deliver a light-activated drug to cancer tumours,” said Prof Russell.

“We have done this in cells in a dish and are now moving onto in vivo work with the funding from Cancer Research UK.

“Our technique can be adapted for use with existing drugs. We have also developed novel drugs with optimised properties.

“These are undergoing pre-clinical toxicity tests at the moment.”

Because of the prohibitive cost of taking drug targets through to market, Prof Russell expects the group’s work will not go beyond selling the licenses to the technology and novel drugs developed.

However, Prof Russell does expect to spin a company out within the next couple of years to commercialise a nano-sensor product which can instantly detect dangerous biological substances for use in anti-terrorist operations.

He said: “The University is very keen to see a spin-out and we have a very small investment from Iceni again.

“We need to get to the stage where we have a marketable product, which should be about three years from now.”

Supported by a three year £219,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project also has the support of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory of the Ministry of Defence, who provide access to the deadly substances the technique tests.

Work is also progressing well on adapting the sensor for use in developing countries to detect water infected with cholera and other diseases as a result of natural disasters and the low-level detection necessary for cholera testing has been achieved.

In both instances the on-the-spot detection system harnesses the ability of coated metal particles to change colour in the presence of toxins, viruses and bacteria, providing a quick ‘yes/no’ indication of the safety of substances found at crime scenes, in luggage or in suspects’ possession.

The technique coats the metal nanoparticles with different sugars that recognise particular biological substances.

The substance binds to the sugar, which causes a solution containing the nanoparticles to change colour. Again gold is the favourite agent.

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