This Team has been developing liposomes – small, bubble-like structures built out of cell membrane that are used as packages to deliver molecules into cells – to carry drugs into cancer cells. The challenge, as with any treatment, is to direct the liposomes and their payload directly to tumours while sparing healthy tissue. Two new studies show the team has taken a step closer to solving this problem by fitting liposomes with a heat-activated trigger. By slightly heating tumours in the lab and in mouse models, the researchers have been able to control when the pin is pulled so that the cancer-killing ‘grenades’ release the drug and target the cancer. Study author Kostas Kostarelos said that temperature-sensitive liposomes have the potential to travel safely around the body while carrying your cancer drug of choice. Once they reach a ‘hotspot’ of warmed-up cancer cells, the pin is effectively pulled and the drugs are released. This allows researchers to more effectively transport drugs to tumours and should reduce collateral damage to healthy cells.
Charles Swanton, chair of the 2015 NCRI Cancer Conference, said that these studies demonstrate for the first time how they can be built to include a temperature control, which could open up a range of new treatment avenues. This is still early work but these liposomes could be an effective way of targeting treatment towards cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.