‘Sticky balls’ could stop cancer spreading

New research into cancer treatments have led to scientists discovering sticky particles that could help to prevent the spread of cancer cells. Cancer is at its most dangerous stage when it has metastasised, or started to break away from the original tumour site, and is spreading around the body via the blood stream. Studies have shown that these ‘sticky balls’ can destroy cancer cells in the blood; by attaching to white blood cells and killing the tumour cells.

© SPL

© SPL

Researchers at the US University of Cornell have developed these cancer busting nanoparticles, designed to stay in the bloodstream and kill the moving cancer cells on contact. The scientists state that although the results were “dramatic”, they admitted that it was early stages and there was “a lot more work to be done”.

Lead researcher of the team – Prof Michael King, explained why migrating cancers were so deadly and dangerous: “About 90% of cancer deaths are related to metastases.” To combat the effects of a metastasising cancer, the team at Cornell attached the cancer-killing protein called Trail to tiny balls that can travel in the bloodstream. Trail has already been used in cancer trials, but this is the first time they have been utilised for cancers that have spread.

When the sticky balls are injected into the blood, they attach themselves to the white blood cells and there they would then bump into any tumour cells that had broken away from the original tumour and were trying to spread. Once the spreading tumour cells had touched the sticky balls, results showed that they began to die off. These dramatic results have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,

Prof King spoke to the BBC: “The data shows a dramatic effect: it’s not a slight change in the number of cancer cells. The results are quite remarkable actually, in human blood and in mice. After two hours of blood flow, they [the tumour cells] have literally disintegrated.”

It has been proposed that the sticky balls could be used before surgery, which would help reduce the spread of any tumour cells becoming dislodged during the operation. Prof King also believes that this treatment could help patients who have very aggressive or wild tumours that spread uncontrollably.

Despite the encouraging results, there is much more testing to be done, as so far, only mice have been used and larger animals have to be trialed before any human patients can be tested. One good sign of this new treatment is that no side effects have cropped up, with no damage to the other blood cells or lining of blood vessels, and no effect on the immune system. But Prof King has warned: “There’s a lot of work to be done. Various breakthroughs are needed before this could be a benefit to patients.”

Source: BBC Health