A unique nanoscale drug that can carry a variety of weapons and sneak into cancer cells to break them down from the inside has a new component: a protein that stimulates the immune system to attack HER2-positive breast cancer cells. The research team developing the drug, led by scientists at the Nanomedicine Research Center, part of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute in the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, conducted the study in laboratory mice with implanted human breast cancer cells. Mice receiving the drug lived significantly longer than untreated counterparts and those receiving only certain components of the drug, according to an article available online on June 12, 2013 in the Journal of Controlled Release. Researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai, the Division of Surgical Oncology at UCLA, and the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA also participated in the study. Unlike other drugs that target cancer cells from the outside, often injuring normal cells as a side effect, this therapy consists of multiple drugs chemically bonded to a "nanoplatform" that functions as a transport vehicle. HER2-positive cancers – making up 25 to 30 percent of breast and ovarian cancers – tend to be more aggressive and less responsive to treatment than others because the overactive HER2 gene makes excessive amounts of a protein that promotes cancer growth. One commonly used drug, Herceptin (trastuzumab), often is effective for a time, but many tumors become resistant within the first year of treatment and the drug can injure normal organs it contacts. But Herceptin (see image) is an antibody to the HER2 gene – it naturally seeks out this protein – so the research team used key parts of Herceptin to guide the nanodrug into HER2-positive cancer cells.
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