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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
'Nanoparticles' could carry cancer drugs
Brain tumour
The research could eventually help treat brain tumours
Drugs could be carried more efficiently to tackle brain tumours by encasing them in specially-designed "nanoparticles", say researchers.

It could allow higher doses of more toxic drugs to be used without fear that widespread damage to tissues will be caused.

A fundamental problem with chemotherapy is trying to deliver the dose needed to destroy the tumour without also destroying vital cells elsewhere in the body.

A team at the University of Nottingham has been awarded a grant of more than 200,000 to work on a project aimed at solving the problem.

They have developed tiny particles - no more than one ten-thousandth of a millimetre in diameter - from polymers, chemicals constructed from long chains of molecules.

The active drug is carried within the particle.

No exit

Even at this size, the particles are so big that the only places they can leave the bloodstream are at the tumour site and the liver.

And because the polymer on the outside of the particle has been engineering to be attracted to water, this limits the amount that can be extracted by the liver every time it passes by in the bloodstream.

Early attempts with the polymer particles failed because they were only capable of carrying very small amounts of the active drug, and often did not hold onto the drug for very long - but scientists believe they have improved the design.

At the moment the particles are under test using less toxic anti-inflammatory drugs also given to cancer patients - but scientists are hopeful that their reliability can be improved sufficiently to allow cancer drugs to be given this way.

'Long road ahead'

Dr Martin Garnett, who is leading the Nottingham team, said: "I am very pleased with the progress in this project so far.

"The new polymers have exceeded my expectations and the flexibility of the synthesis of these polymers offers offer that they should be suitable for delivering a wide range of drugs.

"While there is still a long road ahead, we hope that this work will lead to clinical trials of these delivery systems and, eventually, a reduction in the side effects that patients suffer as a result of being treated with anti-cancer drugs."

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