Needham's Research in Duke Engineering Research 2012

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Poisoning Cancer’s Food

David Needham has a new strategy for killing tumors—smuggling cancer drugs into the cancer cells hidden in lipids, their primary energy source. Needham is already a pioneer in developing heat-activated liposomes for killing tumors. These tiny lipid droplets, when engineered to contain cancer drugs, are taken up by tumors because of their leaky vasculature. The liposomes are engineered to release their cargo when heated, killing tumor cells.
Needham’s new cancer-killing concept is to engineer artificial particles of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to contain cancer drugs. In contrast to untargeted liposomes, LDL has surface proteins that attach to specific receptors on the cell surface to be taken into the cell. Since cancer cells are prodigious consumers of lipid, they would absorb LDL, and with it, the cancer drug. LDL’s specificity means that the drug-carrying lipids could target the diffuse cancer cells of metastatic disease, in which the cancer has spread throughout the body, says Needham. “So, the issue now is to reverse-engineer nature’s design of LDLs to figure out how to build them and how to incorporate cancer drugs.
Needham and his colleagues have invented a process they call “microglassification” to deliver another class of drugs—those composed of protein. The technique could be applied to formulate protein drugs that cost less to produce and are easier to deliver, says Needham. Microglassification involves using the organic solvent decanol to dry proteins into glasslike microbeads, whose size can be controlled by adjusting the parameters of the drying. The process is fast and requires no special equipment. The technique preserves the protein structure and function, in contrast to the used protein preservation process of freeze-drying, which can damage sensitive biologic drugs. ■

Article appeared in Duke Engineering Research 2012, (Writer Dennis Meredith) (under the Publications column, titled Research Magazine)
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