Nanotechnology is offering new hope to bowel cancer patients, as a way of delivering targeted treatment while reducing unwanted side effects.
A new study by Australian and Indian scientists has found bowel cancer rates could be improved if chemotherapy drugs are delivered via tiny nanoparticles direct to the diseased organs, rather than oral treatment.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the world, and the second deadliest, killing almost 900,000 people in 2020.
Researchers found that nanoparticles containing the chemotherapy drug capecitabine (CAP) attach themselves directly to the diseased cells, bypassing healthy cells and therefore reducing toxic side effects as well as the size and number of tumours.
UniSA's Professor of Pharmaceutical Science Sanjay Garg worked with PhD scholar Reema Narayan and Professor Usha Nayak from Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India on the project.
Professor Garg said CAP, also known as Xeloda, is the first-line chemotherapy drug for bowel cancer, but can have some unwanted side effects.
"Due to its short life, a high dose is necessary to maintain effective concentration, resulting in some harsh side effects when delivered conventionally, including severe hand and foot pain, dermatitis, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and loss of taste," he said.
The side effects are exacerbated because the drug affects both healthy and diseased cells.
"A viable alternative to conventional therapy is targeted drug delivery using nanoparticles as smart carriers so that the drug can be delivered specifically to the tumour. This allows a smaller and less toxic dose."
Professor Garg said CAP delivered via nanoparticles reduces both the size and number of cancerous bowel tumours, results in fewer abnormal cells, improved red and white blood cell counts and less damage to other organs.
The targeted delivery system has a dual function: binding the receptors as well as releasing the drug to the tumour micro-environment.
"It has been a challenging project but we believe the platform technology developed can be applied to other cancers and chemotherapeutic drugs," Prof Garg says.
Approximately two million people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and half of those are not expected to survive, according to the World Health Organization.
The risk factors include consuming processed meat, red meat and alcoholic drinks and obesity.