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Israeli scientists halve growth of cancer tumors in mice, using ‘GPS particles’

Hoping to establish a new method for fighting cancer, a team from the Technion attacked nerve cells that help tumor growth, reporting significant success in peer-reviewed research

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: nerve cells. Technion scientists report that they have slowed tumour growth in mice by attacking nerve cells. (ktsimage via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: nerve cells. Technion scientists report that they have slowed tumour growth in mice by attacking nerve cells. (ktsimage via iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli scientists have halved the growth of cancer tumors in mice by using “GPS particles” to inject a well-known local anesthetic drug.

Researchers at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s chemical engineering department have spent years developing complex drug delivery systems made from nanoparticles that use their own navigation system to find their target.

They became increasingly interested in the fact that tumors seem to thrive when they become home to nerve cells, also known as neurons. They started asking whether they could halt this tumor-bolstering effect by killing the nerve cells.

“We wanted to reduce the aggressiveness of tumors by killing the nerve cells that are inside the tumor tissue, and we succeeded in doing exactly this,” Maya Kaduri, who conducted the research with Professor Avi Schroeder, told The Times of Israel. “This is very exciting and novel.”

Mice with cancer who received this treatment saw their tumors grow, on average, threefold in the space of three weeks. For untreated mice, the average was eight times.

Their research — consisting of in vitro studies as well as mice studies — has been peer-reviewed and published in Science Advances. Kaduri said she hopes that after development and clinical testing it will give rise to a new method for fighting tumors.

Illustrative: a chemotherapy patient in hospital (iStock via Getty Images)

Kaduri said: “Cancer cells recruit nerve cells for their own use, cause them to penetrate the tumor tissue and then secrete all sorts of substances that help the tumor. We saw that the presence of neutron cells in cancer cells was strengthening the cancer, and wanted to use nanoparticles to combat this.

“We already know how to use nanoparticles as a drug delivery system. So we sent nanoparticles to the nerve cells inside the tumor, and got them to release a local anesthetic called Bupivacaine.

“Because we’re attacking the nerves, rather than the tumor itself, this is a novel approach, and this gives us great hope.”

Image from a Technion microscope, showing a cultured temper with nerve cells in green, which embolden the cancer cells, which are shown in red. (courtesy of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology)

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