As targeted therapies for cancer have progressed in the labs over the past few years, there have been a handful that stood out from the pack: animal studies in which advanced cancers evaporated rapidly and with few or no side effects. This is what a promising field of medical research looks like once it's underway: a wide range of results that are as good as or somewhat better than existing treatments, and a few that are immensely more beneficial. Researchers gravitate towards what works, and the end result that reaches the clinic is based on the immensely more beneficial approach.
Here is one example of a targeted technology demonstration that uses dendrimers to tie together various components of the therapy. Firstly a popular press piece followed by the published research results:
Scottish scientists have made cancer tumours vanish within 10 days by sending DNA to seek and destroy the cells. The system, developed at Strathclyde and Glasgow universities, is being hailed as a breakthrough because it appears to eradicate tumours without causing harmful side-effects. ... In laboratory experiments the Strathclyde research team used a plasma protein called transferrin, which carries iron through the blood, to deliver the therapeutic DNA to the right spot. Once in situ the DNA produced a protein that attacked the tumour cells.
The possibility of using genes as medicines to treat cancer is limited by the lack of safe and efficacious delivery systems able to deliver therapeutic genes selectively to tumors by intravenous administration. We investigate if the conjugation of the polypropylenimine dendrimer to transferrin, whose receptors are overexpressed on numerous cancers, could result in a selective gene delivery to tumors after intravenous administration, leading to an increased therapeutic efficacy.
The intravenous administration of transferrin-bearing polypropylenimine polyplex resulted in gene expression mainly in the tumors. Consequently, the intravenous administration of the delivery system complexed to a therapeutic DNA led to a rapid and sustained tumor regression over one month, with long-term survival of 100% of the animals (90% complete response, 10% partial response).The treatment was well tolerated by the animals, with no apparent signs of toxicity.
This and similar examples are what make me fairly confident that the cancer waiting in my future will be more of a threat to my wallet than my life.
Koppu S, Oh YJ, Edrada-Ebel R, Blatchford DR, Tetley L, Tate RJ, & Dufès C (2010). Tumor regression after systemic administration of a novel tumor-targeted gene delivery system carrying a therapeutic plasmid DNA. Journal of controlled release : official journal of the Controlled Release Society, 143 (2), 215-21 PMID: 19944722