Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 20, 2012
When it comes to cancer treatment, we’ve discovered that a tiny medicine can have a huge impact.
A multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and physicians from eight institutions, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have created BIND-014, an innovative nanomedicine (medicine at a microscopic level) that may revolutionize cancer treatment. It is the first medicine of its kind to be applied in human clinical trials – examining its safety and effectiveness in treating several types of cancer – and early results are very promising.
A BIND-014 nanoparticle is so small that it would take about one thousand of them lined up side-by-side to equal the width of a single human hair. Yet, despite their tiny size, each nanoparticle is its own complex drug therapy system. The system has three main functions – finding the cancer, avoiding detection by the immune system, and delivering high concentrations of cancer-fighting drugs to the tumor.
Being able to precisely target cancer makes treatment safer and more effective, and BIND-014 can home in on cancer like no other treatment available. Molecules on the surface of the nanoparticle are designed to recognize the distinctive proteins that accumulate on the surface of cancer cells, helping guide the nanoparticle away from healthy tissue and directly to cancerous cells. While heading toward the cancer, stealth properties incorporated into the particle help it to avoid being detected and destroyed by the immune system. Once the nanoparticle reaches its target, its size and shape allow it to escape from the blood vessels and into the cancerous tissue. The nanoparticle is then absorbed by a cancer cell, and the drug is released.
With conventional chemotherapy, the cancer-fighting drugs are unable to distinguish between cancerous cells and certain types of healthy cells. Thus, while some of the dose is destroying cancer, much of the dose is destroying healthy tissue. This leads to unpleasant and, often, dangerous side effects.
BIND-014, however, can deliver a high concentration of drugs directly to cancerous cells and limit exposure to healthy tissue. The impact of this efficiency is significant. Early data from the study of BIND-014 in humans shows that the nanomedicine can reduce a cancerous tumor at relatively low doses of chemotherapy – much lower than would be necessary with traditional chemotherapy – while significantly minimizing side effects.
“This study demonstrates for the first time that it is possible to generate medicines with both targeted and programmable properties that can concentrate the therapeutic effect directly at the site of disease, potentially revolutionizing how complex diseases such as cancer are treated,” says Dr. Omid Farokhzad, an anesthesiologist and Director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at BWH, and a senior author of the BIND-014 study.
Researchers hope to further demonstrate BIND-014’s effectiveness during the next stage of the trial, but this tiny medicine is already big news indeed.– Chris P