Scottish scientists at Edinburgh University have successfully tested a “Trojan Horse” cancer drug that can kill cancer and bacterial cells without damaging nearby healthy tissues.
Researchers have “combined the tiny cancer-killing molecule SeNBD with a chemical food compound to trick malignant cells into ingesting it,” according to reports.
The peer-reviewed experimental study was carried out on zebrafish and human cells, but researchers say more studies are needed to confirm if it is a safe and swift method of treating early stage cancer and drug-resistant bacteria.
Cancerous cells are “greedy” and need to consume high amounts of food for energy and they typically ingest more than healthy cells, said the University of Edinburgh.
By coupling SeNBD with a chemical food compound it becomes the “ideal prey for harmful cells” which ingest it “without being alerted to its toxic nature”.
The drug was invented by University of Edinburgh researchers who compared it to a Trojan Horse, and its effects to a “metabolic warhead”.
Surgeons using this drug would be able to specifically decide when to activate it, which lowers the risk of damaging healthy nearby tissues and avoids side-effects.
“This research represents an important advance in the design of new therapies that can be simply activated by light irradiation, which is generally very safe,” said Professor Marc Vendrell, the lead researcher and University of Edinburgh chair of translational chemistry and Biomedical Imaging.
“SeNBD is one of the smallest photosensitisers ever made and its use as a ‘Trojan horse’ opens many new opportunities in interventional medicine for killing harmful cells without affecting surrounding healthy tissue.”
Dr Sam Benson, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, said the drug is delivered through the “front door of the cell” rather than having to “find a way to batter through the cell’s defences”.
The successful test marks a promising next step in the fight to cure cancer.