Australian researchers have discovered a way to transform the delivery of chemotherapy, potentially curtailing toxic side effects for thousands of cancer patients.
The key to the world-first find is the use of nanomedicines – drugs hidden within nanoscopic fatty membranes or liposomes – which have the ability to more accurately target tumours rather than surrounding tissue.
Scientists at the University of South Australia say the delivery of frequently used chemotherapy drug 5-FU or Fluorouracil is 100 per cent more effective when administered using an optimised liposomal formulation.
Employing a minimally invasive sampling technique known as micro-dialysis, they have been able to demonstrate the biodistribution of 5-FU in a way not possible with traditional imaging approaches.
Lead researcher and co-director at UniSA’s Centre for Pharmaceutical Innovation, Professor Clive Prestidge, says the advance could alter the quality of cancer treatment across the board.
“Chemotherapy is regularly administered to treat many different types of cancers, including breast and colon cancers but one of the major setbacks of 5-FU is that it does not distribute well to tumour issues and can cause high levels of off-target damage,” he said.
“As a result, many patients suffer adverse effects and can get very sick during treatment.”
Prof Prestidge says liposomal formulations present great opportunities for safer, more effective medications because they prolong the retention of encapsulated drugs.
However optimising them for chemotherapy has long proved a challenge.
“Our micro-dialysis approach is the first to quantify how liposomal-specific delivery of 5-FU can reduce tumour growth with fewer toxic side effects,” he said.
“It has the potential to dramatically transform many cancer treatments and deliver better outcomes for people with cancer.”
With cancers accounting for almost 10 million – or one in six – fatalities worldwide, about 150,000 new cases are diagnosed in Australia annually.
Chemotherapy is regularly used to treat them, with 5-FU among the most widely used drugs.
Its side effects can include nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, diarrhoea or constipation, weight fluctuations, frequent infections and mouth sores.