Scientists Develop Algae That Kill Cancer Cells
Scientists may have finally found a way to kill cancer once and for all. Genetically engineered algae have now been developed that kill up to 90% of cancer cells in lab tests, while simultaneously leaving healthy ones unharmed. The treatment has also been shown to effectively treat tumors in mice without doing any damage to the rest of the body.
Developing medicine that attacks only cancerous cells and leaves the rest of the body alone is arguably the biggest challenge in cancer drug therapy. Such targeted chemotherapy helps to avoid many of the damaging side effects of your typical chemo treatment, when all fast viding cells in the body are exposed to toxin drugs – including hair follicles, nails, and bone marrow.
This is why researchers have been working on nanoparticle-based drug delivery, which sends drug-loaded, porous silica particles into the body to target cancerous cells. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of these types of nanoparticles is still expensive and it requires industrial chemicals like hydrofluoric acid.
Thankfully, an international team of scientists from Australia and Germany has genetically engineered a diatom algae that is able to transport the nanoparticle job just as nicely.
Diatoms are a large group of microscopic one-cell organisms that possess translucent cell walls composed of hydrated silicon dioxide or silica. This is the same type of porous material used to manufacture nanoparticle medicine. These algae are just for to six micrometers in diameter, or ten times smaller than the width of the average human hair.
“By genetically engineering diatom algae – tiny, unicellular, photosynthesising algae with a skeleton made of nanoporous silica, we are able to produce an antibody-binding protein on the surface of their shells,” said lead author and nanomedicine expert Nico Voelcker.
Antibody-laden diatom nanoparticles are able to only bind to molecules found in cancer cells, where they can release drugs. This makes this type of treatment the perfect targeted therapy researchers are looking for. It is also noteworthy that diatomaceous earth is closely associated with detoxifying heavy metals and prescription drug residues.
“Much attention has been paid to developing drug carriers that are natural, biocompatible and biodegradable,” the authors state in their report, published in Nature Communications.
The tiny silica diatom algae meet these criteria, since they only need water and light to grow, and they can break down if they are just left to the elements. By choosing the right antibody, these algae nanoparticles can be easily directed to cancerous cells only.
In their research, the international team of scientists stuffed diatoms full of chemo drugs. They then tested the nanoparticles on cancer cells in vitro and in mice with neuroblastoma tumors. Not only did the algae successfully kill 90 percent of cancer cells in a dish while sparing the healthy human cells, they also managed to reduce tumor growth in mice after a single dose.
Better yet, the mice didn’t show any signs of acute tissue damage from the chemotherapy, and the diatom biosilica safely degraded in their bodies after a short period of time.
“Although it is still early days, this novel drug delivery system based on a biotechnologically tailored, renewable material holds a lot of potential for the therapy of solid tumors, including currently untreatable brain tumors,” Voelcker said.