A revolutionary cancer treatment using microscopic magnets to enable 'armed' human cells to target tumours has been developed by researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Research published online in the journal, Gene Therapy, shows that inserting these nano-magnets into cells carrying genes to fight tumours, results in many more cells successfully reaching and invading malignant tumours.
Using human cells as delivery vehicles for anti-cancer gene therapy has long been an attractive approach for treating tumours, but these cells usually reach tumours in insufficient numbers to effectively attack them. Research carried out jointly by The University of Nottingham, the University of Sheffield and the University of Keele has developed a new 'magnetic targeting' method to overcome this problem.
Bio-mathematician, Professor Helen Byrne, Director for the Centre for Mathematical Medicine and Biology at The University of Nottingham said: “This project was unusual because of the role that mathematical modelling played in its development. My previous work with Professor Claire Lewis at the University of Sheffield and Professor Jon Dobson at Keele University put me in a unique position to bridge their separate areas of expertise. This led to the idea of introducing magnetic particles into genetically engineered macrophages in order to increase their delivery to tumour sites.”
The technique involves inserting nanomagnets into monocytes — a type of white blood cell used to carry gene therapy — and injecting the cells into the bloodstream. The researchers then placed a small magnet over the tumour to create a magnetic field and found that this attracted many more monocytes into the tumour.
Professor Lewis said: "The use of nanoparticles to enhance the uptake of therapeutically armed cells by tumours could herald a new era in gene therapy - one in which delivery of the gene therapy vector to the diseased site is much more effective. This new technique could also be used to help deliver therapeutic genes in other diseases like arthritic joints or ischemic heart tissue."
Professor Jon Dobson from the University of Keele said: “Though the concept of magnetic targeting for drug and gene delivery has been around for decades, major technical hurdles have prevented its translation into a clinical therapy. By harnessing and enhancing the monocytes' innate targeting abilities, this technique offers great potential to overcome some of these barriers and bring the technology closer to the clinic.”
Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Director of Science and Technology, said: "This exciting work could have huge implications in healthcare. Fundamental bioscience research may sometimes seem to have little relevance to everyday life, but understanding the basic workings of the human body and harnessing nanoscale technology has resulted in a process of great potential in tumour therapy."
The team are now looking at how effective magnetic targeting is at delivering a variety of different cancer-fighting genes, including ones which could stop the spread of tumours to other parts of the body.
This research is published online in Gene Therapy today and will be published in the journal Gene Therapy on 3 June 2008.
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Notes to Editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THES) World University Rankings.
It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.
Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy).
Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for three years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.