Scientists Successfully Test Drug That Can Kill Cancer Cells Without Damaging Nearby Healthy Tissue
Cancer cells, illustration

Scientists in Scotland have successfully tested a new drug that can kill cancer cells while leaving nearby healthy tissue untouched, according to new reports.

The researchers at the University of Edinburgh combined a tiny cancer-killing molecule, called SeNBD, with a chemical food compound, which tricked cancer cells into ingesting it. The combination has been dubbed a “Trojan Horse,” according to The Herald.

The study, which has been peer reviewed, used zebrafish and human cells. The scientists say more research needs to be conducted to see if it is a safe to treat early-stage cancer and even drug-resistant bacteria.

“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,'” the Herald reported.

According to the scientists, SeNBD is a light-activated “photosensitizer,” which means it kills cells when activated by light. Surgeons could 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,” said the university.

“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 said in a press release. Bacterial and cancer cells “consume higher concentrations and different types of metabolites than healthy cells. 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.”

“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,” said lead researcher Professor Marc Vendrell, chairman of translational chemistry and Biomedical Imaging at the university.

“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 said.

Another researcher, Dr. Sam Benson, said the way the drug works is that it is delivered through 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. 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,” Benson said.

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