AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREFrumpy Middle-aged Mom: My realistic 2020 New Year’s resolutions. Some involve doughnuts.Until 1996, the drug’s developer, Mark Davis, had never thought of tackling cancer. A successful chemical engineer, for years he had worked at Caltech creating new materials with applications ranging from pharmaceuticals to semiconductors. Then his wife, Mary, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent severe chemotherapy – losing her hair and her appetite and spending three weeks in isolation while her immune system rebuilt itself. “She basically said, `There’s got to be a better way than this, why don’t you start working on it?’,” Davis said. Davis began reading and researching other scientists’ work for ideas. “When you look into a new area, you’re thinking `What can I do that somebody else hasn’t tried?”‘ he said. It was a daunting challenge, but in the 10 years since his wife’s successful battle against the disease, Davis created a new nanoparticle drug-delivery system that could revolutionize cancer treatment. PASADENA – Ray Natha has been fighting pancreatic cancer for four years. After his diagnosis, he underwent chemotherapy, but the drugs’ side effects – crippling nausea and fatigue, extreme anxiety before treatments and a blighted immune system – were more than he could bear. “It was very, very tough – I couldn’t take it,” said Natha, a 53-year-old Walnut resident. “\ don’t tell you how many people walk away and resign themselves to their fate.” Even worse, the treatment didn’t work. The cancer was resistant, and by 2004 it had spread to his lungs. But one Caltech researcher’s determination to find a less debilitating treatment for his own wife’s cancer has brought fresh hope to Natha and others facing the rigors of chemo. Natha is the first human subject in the trials of a promising new nanomedicine being developed that – in animal tests – shrunk even drug-resistant tumors while causing only minor side effects. After much experimentation, Davis designed tiny nets made of rings of sugar molecules that could carry caches of cancer-fighting drugs deep into tumors. By creating these nets from scratch, Davis was able to make them just small enough to pass from the bloodstream into the tumor, just large enough not to be filtered out by the kidneys and have just the right chemistry to allow them to sneak into cancer cells and release their toxic cargo. “It’s challenging chemically,” said Robert Langer, a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s not just making them small – it’s making sure they have all the right properties. It’s just a major, major advance.” Davis’ nanomedicine takes advantage of some unique cancer properties to improve on the chemotherapy treatment given today. Tumors constantly need new blood vessels to nourish them. These new vessels are leakier than mature ones – allowing the nanoparticles to leave the bloodstream only there instead of pervading the entire body. Furthermore, it’s the cancer cells’ increased acidity that unravels the molecular net Davis developed, slowly releasing the drug. “It’s like a timed release,” he said – a molecular replacement for the pump some patients wear to ensure they are getting an ongoing source of cancer-fighting agents. Combining these factors keep most of the drugs’ toxicity limited to the tumor, instead of also ravaging the immune system, digestive tract and hair follicles. In animal studies, these factors combined to yield impressive and heartening results. But, cautioned Davis, “the difficulty in this area is it doesn’t count until you put it in humans.” For the next one to two years, City of Hope will host trials of the drug’s safety in 24 patients, followed – if all goes well – by larger-scale tests to determine if it remains as potent as it first seemed. “People lined up for this treatment because they had already been treated and nothing could stop their disease – it still progressed,” said City of Hope oncologist Yun Yen, who is leading the trial. Among them, Natha is eagerly awaiting the results of tests two weeks from now to see if his tumors have shrunken. Even before then, though, the news has been hopeful. “I’ve been running around, doing things. I’m hoping that it will be successful – it’s going to make a lot of people’s lives easier.” [email protected]
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