Chemotherapy can be a vital tool in saving a cancer patient’s life, but too often, it comes at a significant cost both financially and physically. Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking cells that are multiplying quickly. Cancer cells are among these, but so are skin cells, hair cells, blood cells, the cells in the lining of the digestive system, and a variety of other cells that help our bodies to function normally. Without these healthy cells, patients experience hair loss, decreased immune system function, dry skin, dry mouth, and other unpleasant conditions. The fact that chemotherapy isn’t capable of discriminating between healthy cells and cancer cells means many people must suffer debilitating short-term and long-term side effects from chemo drugs in the hopes that their bodies will be strong enough to handle it and that, in the end, their lives will be saved.
Happily, however, a research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine and Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences thinks they may have found a solution to this problem. Led by Professor Alexander Binshtok, the team has developed a way to deliver chemotherapy drugs more directly to malignant cells while bypassing healthy cells, thereby allowing patients to skip the side effects that traditionally come with chemo drugs.
This new method may also allow doctors to give their patients reduced doses of chemotherapy drugs, because the drug will be ushered directly into each individual cancer cell and will be able to kill it more easily. This further serves to reduce side effects and improves overall prognosis and compliance among chemo patients.
The new method of chemotherapy delivery works by administering a TRPV2-activator along with the chemotherapy drug to open up the TRPV2 channels of individual cancer cells. This allows the chemotherapy to get inside the cell’s cytoplasm, killing the cell more effectively. Meanwhile, channels into normal healthy cells will remain blocked off.
“Eliminating cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones alone is an important step toward reducing patients’ suffering,” says Professor Binshtok. “It’s too early to make concrete predictions, but we are hopeful this discovery will lead the way toward a new, more targeted delivery method for chemotherapy treatment, one that will drastically reduce patients’ pain.”
The research team cautions that its new strategy will likely be difficult to implement in real healthcare situations. In the lab, they were able to inject a small amount of doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic agent, into liver cancer cells with the degree of precision they were hoping for, but there’s still a long way to go to get this idea from the proof-of-concept stage to an actual treatment.
“It’s too early to make concrete predictions but we are hopeful this discovery will lead the way towards a new, more targeted delivery method for chemotherapy treatment, one that will drastically reduce patients’ pain,” says Binshtok.
We’re looking forward to seeing what this method of chemotherapy delivery evolves into in the future. This could save so many people from excessive suffering and from needing to take a break from cancer treatment because their side effects are too severe. A discovery like this will mean more lives saved and a greater quality of life for anyone undergoing chemo.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?