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How Can Camels Help With Cancer Gene Therapy?

July 14, 2011

Nanobodies produced by camels have unique properties, which can be used in future drug development. New research published in the Journal of Controlled Release confirms that nanobodies can help scientists in the fight against cancer.

Members of the camelid family have particular heavy-chain antibodies in their blood known as nanobodies, that may serve as therapeutic proteins. One of the most powerful advantages of nanobodies is that they can be easily attached to other proteins and nanoparticles by simple chemical procedures.

Scientists at the Department of Pharmaceutics and Analytical Chemistry, University of Copenhagen, have designed nanoparticle systems of smaller than 150nm that are decorated with nanobodies expressing high specificity for the cancer marker Mucin-1, which is connected to breast and colon cancer.

Research supports aim for safer nanomedicines

“This is a very effective and a highly promising approach in experimental cancer gene therapy, while minimizing adverse-related reactions to cancer nanomedicines. Furthermore the research supports our aim for rational design and engineering of effective and safer nanomedicines for the future. We have taken the first step, but of course more work is needed to support the efficacy of this system for cancer treatment,” says Professor Moein Moghimi.

Professor Moghimi works at the Department of Pharmaceutics and Analytical Chemistry at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences where he heads the Centre for Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology, which is supported by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Two postdocs, Davoud Ahmadvand and Ladan Parhamifar, from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, were also involved in this work.

Size and properties matter

Compared to other protein-based drugs, nanobodies are very small. They are ten times smaller than intact antibodies. They are also less sensitive to temperature and pH changes and can be easily linked to nanoparticles and other proteins.  These properties make nanobodies very interesting for targeting of cancer cells.

The recently published article in the Journal of Controlled Release describes how a Mucin-1 nanobody was linked to specialized nanoparticles made from polymers carrying a killer gene known at truncated-Bid. When expressed, the gene product triggers cells to commit suicide.

However, the expression of the killer gene was under the control of the cancer-specific Mucin-1 promoter as to avoid non-specific cell killing. These procedures are also referred to as “transcriptional targeting”, which can prevent normal tissue toxicities associated with other cancer treatments. Indeed, the formulation proved to be highly effective in killing cancer cells expressing the Mucin-1 marker, while no harm was done to the normal cells or cancer cells that did not express the Mucin-1 marker.

The efficacy of these nanoparticles is now being tested in animal models.

Another exciting development is that the team has now purified a second and a highly effective nanobody against another cancer marker (Her-2) expressed by certain breast tumors.

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