Biotechwiz

News,Views & Insights on Biotechnology

Browsing Posts published in November, 2009

The detection and cure of cancer has become increasingly essential as a large number of people continue to succumb annually to this deadly disease. Treatment in the case of cancers poses a unique problem in terms of the high potential toxicity of many of the drugs currently being used in cancer therapy. Additionally, the fact that any method of killing cancerous cells also inevitably causes harm to normal, healthy cells and tissues further complicates the situation. Thus researchers have to find answers to some very crucial questions: First, can they reduce the effective dosage of the drug in question in order to reduce the magnitude of the damage to unwanted tissues? And second, can they control the release of the drug and or localize the drug to a specific set of cells within a tumour or in areas near it, thus preventing tissue damage? These are tough problems to tackle, especially when working with a complex system such as the human body. There is a limit to which one can reduce dosage, since one has to allow for loss of the drug through physiological processes within the body. Too low a dose might end up not really being efficacious. Localization however will end up solving both problems. If the drug can be localised, even relatively smaller doses can prove to be more efficient.

It was when I pondering over these problems that I came across some research carried out in the field of nanotechnology that was concerned with precisely the same problems. Researchers have come very close to solving the problem of localized and metered dosing of a drug within the body. This feat has been achieved by using gold nanocages. These cages are coated with a special type of “smart polymer” which can be induced to open or close using an external signal such as exposure to near-infrared light. These smart polymers are very apt for use in timed release of drugs.

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I recently read a press- release that very attractively used the term fly-paper to describe a novel invention by researchers at UCLA that can be used to grab maverick cancer cells circulating in the blood stream. These ‘mavericks’ I might add are known in Cancer jargon as Circulating Tumour Cells or CTCs. These tumour cells escape from an already formed tumour in the body and begin to circulate in the body via the bloodstream that involuntarily acts as a transport medium for these dangerous cells. The CTCs now form newer tumours in locations distinct from that of the original tumour, resulting in formation of ‘satellite tumours’ or colonies of tumour cells, giving rise to one of the most Distinctive and scaring features of a malignant tumour, namely, Metastasis.

A Cirulating Tumor Cell

A Cirulating Tumor Cell

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The Rogue Protein!!

1 comment

Swirl

I have always been intrigued by Disease and its Molecular underpinnings. Thanks to an explosion of technologies and branches of study we now know much more about disease and our response to them than we probably did a few centuries ago. The beauty, however, is that the more we unravel, the more twisted the problem seems to get. Just as we feel that we have begun to grasp the single unifying concept of an infectious agent, then along comes a startling new discovery and turns all our careful theories on their heads!!!

I have been longing to write on the current topic for a while now, and finally today I decided to take the plunge. So here goes, Prion Diseases. I am sure everyone has at least heard of prion diseases. Ok if not Prion, then at least the phrase “Mad Cow Disease” should definitely ring a bell. The unique aspect of this disease is very evident when one examines the extremely lucid definition of a prion given by the website MedicneNet.com, “A disease-causing agent that is neither bacterial nor fungal nor viral and contains no genetic material. A prion is a protein that occurs normally in a harmless form. By folding into an aberrant shape, the normal prion turns into a rogue agent. It then co-opts other normal prions to become rogue prions”.

The Deadly Prion.. The Rogue Protein

The Deadly Prion.. The Rogue Protein

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