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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 May 2006, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Hope over 'new generation' drugs
Breast cancer cells
Antisense drugs target genes which produce cancer-causing proteins
Scientists believe they may have found a way of protecting special cancer drugs which target troublesome genes.

Antisense drugs are a new generation of medicine which can block the action of genes which produce harmful proteins.

To date, scientists have struggled to stop the drugs from breaking down as they zone in on the target genes.

But the Northwestern University team found in lab tests combining the drugs with small particles of gold offered them protection, Science reported.

Powerful new cancer drugs will only live up to their potential if they can be efficiently delivered to cancer cells
Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK

When mutations in the body's genetic material cause too many copies of certain proteins, cancer and other diseases can result.

Typical drugs target the proteins, but antisense drugs target the genetic material itself before it is ever made into copies of harmful proteins.

The drug therapy is still in its infancy, but has the potential to be much more effective than conventional drug treatment.

However, the major challenge has been ensuring the drug remains intact while it finds its way through the body.

Researchers showed that by attaching multiple strands of antisense DNA to the surface of gold nanoparticles - pieces of gold a small fraction of the width of a human hair - the antisense drug could be delivered to its target in a more stable form.


When compared to other methods of delivering antisense drugs using commercial agents, the researchers found they were less toxic and more readily absorbed by cells.

Lead researcher Chad Mirkin said: "In the future, this exciting new class of antisense material could be used for the treatment of cancer and other diseases that have a genetic basis.

"Once inside cells, the DNA modified nanoparticles act as sponges that bind to their targets and prevent them from being converted to proteins."

Ed Yong, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said the research offered real hope for the future.

"Powerful new cancer drugs will only live up to their potential if they can be efficiently delivered to cancer cells.

"This study accomplishes this by combining two exciting and relatively new technologies - antisense drugs and nanotechnology.

"In upcoming years, we are likely to see nanotechnology play a greater role in detecting and treating cancers."

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