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Important advance to fight skin cancer

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Basal cell carcinoma is currently one of the most common forms of skin cancer. Every year it kills eighty thousand people and, for this reason, research teams from all over the world are concentrating on reducing its incidence.

In this sense, a group of scientists from the National University of Quilmes (UNQ) in Argentina has made a breakthrough in the field: they have designed a nanostructure, which carries the drug to treat the disease and specifically attacks the tumor. In the future, it could replace the currently marketed pill, which is very expensive and causes serious collateral damage to healthy tissues and organs.

The team has detailed their progress in the academic journal International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

“We incorporate the drug Vismodegib that is currently on the market and is used to treat skin cancer in ultra-deformable liposomes. They are very particular structures: nanometric-sized spherical vesicles (a nanometer is a million times smaller than a millimeter) that have the ability to cross the outermost layer of the skin and reach the cells where this type of tumor develops ”, describes Argentina Investiga Natalia Calienni, who is doing her doctorate in Science and Technology at UNQ.

This advance represents a paradigm shift, to the extent that the drug that until now has been administered orally and causes side effects, could be introduced into the body in the form of a cream or gel and would allow wide margins of efficacy to be obtained. The objective? Reduce toxicity in healthy organs. “Currently, the capsules are taken once a day and the main drawback is that, like any chemotherapy drug, it has a lot of (unwanted) side effects. What usually happens is that the active ingredient not only conquers tumor cells but also other healthy regions of the body”, states Calienni who, despite her youth, already has seven published investigations as first author.

In addition, as if that were not enough, this advance would allow treatment costs to be reduced considerably. “With the modality we designed, approximately 2,500 times less drug would be supplied than is done through the capsule. In addition, it reaches the tumor between two and three times more than conventional therapy”, explains Jorge Montanari, researcher of the Structural Biology and Biotechnology Group and director of the project. Today, the intake scheme available by prescription lasts 28 days and has a value of close to half a million Argentine pesos, which restricts the conditions of access for most patients. Therefore, if the drug were supplied through these nanostructures, the price would decrease significantly.

Jorge Montanari and Natalia Calienni. (Photo: National University of Quilmes / Argentina Investigates)

The experiments were performed on cell lines derived from human organisms. The researchers worked from their laboratory with skin donations received from cosmetic surgeries, such as those removed from patients undergoing a gastric belt, and successfully verified how the nanosystem worked. “In the future we hope to test these nanostructures in an animal model –in mice that present this type of skin tumors– and, not too far in the future, to carry out clinical tests directly in patients”, comments Calienni. (Source: Argentina Investigates / National University of Quilmes)

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