Researchers developing technology to outsmart metastasized cancers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. 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. But Endocyte Inc. and Purdue University researchers 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 cancer cells while leaving the surrounding normal tissue unharmed.

One form of this "Trojan Horse" therapeutic approach (folate-targeted immunotherapy) was used by a joint Purdue-Endocyte research team to successfully treat more than 200 mice with late-stage metastatic disease. The results of these studies were published in the May Journal of Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy.

"It's using cancer's nutritional needs against itself," said Philip Low, Purdue's Joseph F. Foster Distinguished Professor of Chemistry who led the research team that discovered this diagnostic and treatment method. "We are essentially slipping medicine in with cancer's favorite food."

The discovery has thus far yielded two different but complementary treatment methods that involve attaching various markers (folate-targeted immunotherapy) or anticancer agents (folate-targeted chemotherapy) to the vitamin.

The treatment method that "marks" cancer will be tested in Phase I Food and Drug Administration-regulated human clinical trials beginning in November. The objective of this method is to force the body's immune syste

Contact: Jeanine Phipps
Purdue University

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