In a revolutionary approach to customize treatments for cancer, tiny quantities of “barcoded” drugs are tested inside the patient’s tumor to determine how well they work.
Using synthetic DNA sequences as the tiniest of barcodes, Technion researchers have developed a new diagnostic technology for determining the suitability of specific anticancer drugs to a specific patient – before treatment even begins.
Publishing in Nature Communications, the research team led by Prof. Avi Schroeder of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering has created what could be described as a safe, miniature lab insidethe patient’s body, which examines the effectiveness of any drug on that individual patient.
“The medical world is now moving towards personalized medicine, combining our barcoding technology with genetic screening ensures more accurately tailored cancer treatments that will determine which medicine is best for each patient,” explains Prof. Schroeder.
Together with doctoral student Zvi Yaari, Schroeder packed miniscule quantities of anticancer drugs inside dedicated nanoparticles they developed. The unique design of the drug-loaded, nanoscale packages allows them to flow in the bloodstream to the tumor, where they are swallowed by the cancer cells. Synthetic DNA sequences attached to the anticancer drugs in advance serve as barcode readers of each drug’s activity in the cancer cells.
After 48 hours, a biopsy is taken from the tumor, and the barcode analysis provides accurate information about cells destroyed by each drug. Together with the Technion Integrated Cancer Center, the researchers are currently working with drugs registered as anticancer drugs, but in principle, they can test a battery of drugs for each patient and find out which is the most effective to treat his or her disease.
“It’s a bit like testing for allergies, where simple tests provide us with a specific person’s allergy profile. We developed a simple test that provides us with a profile of the cancer patient’s response to the designated anti-cancer drug. This method makes it possible to test the effectiveness of several medications concurrently inside the patient’s tumor. The minute doses are not felt by the patient, and do not pose any danger. Based on the test results, the most effective drug for the specific patient is selected.”
The study is being funded by a prestigious Horizon 2020-ERC grant from the European Union and by the Israel Science Foundation and the Israel Cancer Association. The new technology was patented and discussions are underway for commercialization.