North Carolina – Disguising cancer drugs as platelets could improve their effectiveness, a new study says. With this in mind, scientists use the patient’s platelets membranes and nanotechnology to coat the drugs, allowing them to last longer in the organism and attack cancer cells.

“Because the platelets come from the patient’s own body, the drug carriers aren’t identified as foreign objects, so last longer in the bloodstream,” says Zhen Gu, corresponding author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A new study suggests that by disguising cancer drugs as platelets, their effectiveness could improve significantly. Credit:

The disguise works like this: first, blood is taken from the patient to collect the platelets. The membranes are extracted and placed in a nanoscale gel containing the drug, named Dox. This gets compressed making the membranes contain minuscule particles of the drug gel. Then, they add another anticancer drug called TRAIL on the surface.

“The surface of cancer cells has an affinity for platelets – they stick to each other,” Professor Gu adds.

The “fake” platelets are released into the patient’s organism and circulate about 30 hours, 6 times better than before. At the moment the platelets get in touch with the cancerous tumour, the proteins on the membrane bind with the ones on the cancer cell, getting the drugs into place. After, the TRAIL drug attacks the cancer cell and the platelet is consumed by the larger cancer cell. Once they do that, the cancer cell dissolves the platelet, releasing the Dox drug.

This was successfully tested in mice against large tumors. Researchers point out that this technique could also be used to treat other diseases, such as cardiovascular ones. The study was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

“This combination of features means that the drugs can not only attack the main tumour site, but are more likely to find and attach themselves to tumour cells circulating in the bloodstream – essentially attacking new tumours before they start,” says Quanyin Hu, lead author of the paper and a Ph.D. student in the joint biomedical engineering program, according to the press release.

Source: Journal Advanced Materials