Chemotherapy Breakthrough

Chemotherapy Breakthrough

In a stunning breakthrough, Brigham and Women's researchers have devised a way for nanoparticles carrying chemotherapy to find and obliterate cancerous cells.

A persistent problem in chemotherapy has been targeting these potent drugs to only cancer cells, while leaving healthy tissue alone. But researchers led by Omid Farokhzad, MD, director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have done just that, representing a stunning breakthrough in the fight against cancer. What’s more, they’ve developed what is the first tiny drug-carrying robot—so microscopically small it earns the designation “nanoparticle”—to enter human clinical trials.

Working in collaboration with MIT and BIND Biosciences—who developed the drug and conducted the trial—Farokhzad’s team laced nanoparticles with potent doses of cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs, and equipped them with the equivalent of a GPS system to find and bind to cancerous cells. As such, they can effectively attack and shrink tumors without harming the body’s healthy tissues.

In Farokhzad’s phase-one clinical trial with 17 cancer patients, researchers demonstrated that these specially engineered nanoparticles achieve much higher drug concentrations in tumors. Patients received 100-fold higher concentrations than conventional chemotherapy, while experiencing doses as low as 20 percent of the normally prescribed drug, significantly reducing their side effects. Many of the participants’ tumors shrank, even with the lower doses.

Farokhzad is optimistic about future clinical trials, which will test the nanoparticles on larger groups of cancer patients. “In the past, we couldn’t bring very high amounts of cancer-fighting drugs selectively to the site of disease,” said Farokhzad. “This potentially revolutionizes how cancer will be treated in the future.”