Magazine article USA TODAY

Tricking Cancer Cells to Destroy Themselves. (Malignancy)

Magazine article USA TODAY

Tricking Cancer Cells to Destroy Themselves. (Malignancy)

Article excerpt

News that a malignant tumor has spread to other parts of the body seems like a death knell to the ears of many cancer patients. However, researchers at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., are developing treatment methods that ultimately may cure some cancers, even those that have reached an advanced stage.

Many types of cancer cells have a great affinity for folate--a form of water-soluble B vitamin--because they need the nutrient in order to grow and divide. In fact, cancer cells have evolved a mechanism to capture folate more effectively than normal cells. Making use of this selectivity, researchers have developed a way to trick cancer cells into attracting and even ingesting anticancer agents that are attached to folate molecules. As a result, these chemotherapeutic agents can be delivered more specifically to cancerous cells while leaving the surrounding normal tissue unharmed.

"It's using cancer's nutritional needs against itself," explains Philip Low, the Joseph R Foster Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. "We are essentially slipping medicine in with cancer's favorite food." The discovery has yielded two different, but complementary, treatment methods that involve attaching various markers (folate-targeted immunotherapy) or anticancer agents (folate-targeted chemotherapy) to the vitamin.

"There's no better drug than your own immune system, which consequently is capable of getting rid of every last bacterium, every last virus, or every last fungus in the body. Today's drugs can't do that," states researcher Christopher Leamon. "Unfortunately, many cancers develop ways to evade immune surveillance. But we've found a way to redirect a patient's immune system to kill those resistant cancer cells by using our folate-targeted approach. …

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