Boston on the Frontline in the Battle Against Cancer; BU and Harvard both have Revolutionary New Cancer Treatments in the Works

Posted by erik devaney

Two Boston area universities; two incredibly different approaches; one goal: develop an effective cancer treatment that has minimal side effects.

The Problem

One of the most widely used cancer treatments, chemotherapy, functions by inundating the body with toxic agents. The goal of introducing these toxic agents is to destroy the irregular, rapidly dividing cells that are responsible for producing cancerous tumors. Unfortunately, healthy cells frequently get caught in the chemotherapy crossfire. Side effects from chemotherapy can include hair loss, nausea, vomiting and loss of immune system function as well as damage to the liver and heart.

Attempts to directly inhibit the genes that cause cancer cells to grow and divide have largely failed, which is why chemotherapy continues to be the go-to treatment option for many cancer patients. However, new breakthroughs from BU and Harvard may eventually change the way physicians tackle this difficult disease.

The BU Approach

Dr. Tyrone Porter, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Boston University’s College of Engineering, is targeting cancerous tumors with nanomedicine. Porter is loading tiny particles — 1/20th the size of red blood cells — with chemotherapy drugs and then intravenously injecting those particles so that they accumulate within tumors. Using ultrasound technology, Porter can then focus acoustic energy on to tumors, heat the tumors by a few degrees and trigger the particles to release the drugs they are carrying.

As Porter recently commented, the goal of this nanomedicine approach is to release chemotherapy drugs “only in the tumor,” so that healthy cells and tissues are not affected. Using this innovate approach, “you won’t have as much hair loss, you won’t have as much nausea or vomiting, and we won’t suppress the immune system,” said Porter.

The Harvard Approach

Scientists at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are disrupting the function of a cancer gene, MYC. The gene plays a key role in the formation of multiple myeloma and other types of cancers. Instead of trying to inhibit MYC directly with drug molecules, which is an approach that has found little success, the Harvard-affiliated scientists are switching off the gene with a new molecule: JQ1. JQ1 interferes with the MYC gene’s ability to activate cell-growth, effectively stopping cancer in its tracks.

As Dr. James E. Bradner of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School recently commented, “We believe that these studies create a pathway for a drug-like derivative of JQ1 to be studied in translational research and then clinically developed as a therapeutic in multiple myeloma.”

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Posted by erik devaney on Sep 14 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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