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Research: Computer modeling predicts targeted cancer drug delivery efficacy

Further research could provide cancer patients with more targeted chemotherapy, reduced side effects on non-cancerous tissues

A newly developed computational model demonstrates improved cancer drug effectiveness, while reducing side effects for patients.

Investigators from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) with the help of the Delaware Clinical and Translational Research ACCEL Program recently published their findings, “Selecting ideal drugs for encapsulation in thermosensitive liposomes and other triggered nanoparticles,” in the July issue of the International Journal of Hyperthermia.

The paper details their research of screening different cancer drugs encapsulated within heat-sensitive lipid particles (to target the heated tumor) to determine how well this strategy enhances targeted-tumor drug delivery while decreasing a patient’s side effects.

“When you give chemotherapy to a patient, it’s infused into the bloodstream, it goes everywhere and only a very tiny amount goes to the cancerous tumor that you actually want to treat,” Dieter Haemmerich, PhD, DSc, with MUSC, explained of current cancer drug administration. “The goal of all these nanoparticles and triggered drug delivery systems is always to get more drug to the tumor and get less drug to the places where you don’t want it delivered because chemotherapy is basically a poison – it kills cancer cells, but it damages or kills our other tissues and organs as well.”

Dr. Haemmerich explained that many researchers have been working with the thermosensitive lipid particles and other types of nanoparticles, while putting various cancer drugs in these particles. But there has not been any clear rationale as to which drugs may work best. That’s where he and his team’s computer model come in.

“Some prior computer models we did suggested the drugs that work best with the particles are not necessarily the same that work best when you use them as conventional chemotherapy agents (i.e., just the drug without particles),” Dr. Haemmerich said. He explained that traditionally, there’s a lot of trial and error in matching a drug to the delivery particle, and once they’re matched, then it’s tested in animals to demonstrate efficacy just to discover years later it didn’t work as well as hypothesized.

“The computer model provides a way to more rapidly see which of the drugs work best and then you can focus on those and encapsulate those in the particle,” Dr. Haemmerich said.

In January 2022, the investigators received ACCEL Shovel-Ready Pilot Grant Program funding to generate the preliminary data and develop the investigation detailed in their paper. Next, the investigators will be testing those drugs that seemed to work best in the computer model on tumors in animals. In addition, the researchers will use imaging to measure properties of specific tumors in animals to predict for a particular tumor in a patient or animal how much drug can be delivered to that tumor.

The research team and paper’s authors included:

  • Krishna K. Ramajayam, Department of Pediatrics, MUSC
  • Danforth A. Newton, Department of Pediatrics, MUSC
  • Dieter Haemmerich, PhD, DSc, Department of Pediatrics, MUSC

This research, Haemmerich said, will provide patients with a more targeted chemotherapy delivery, improve drug efficacy, and reduce side effects by limiting drug uptake in other, non-cancerous tissues or organs.

According to the paper, thermosensitive liposomes have further clinical applications in the delivery of drugs for other diseases, such as the treatment of infections and inflammation.