According to researchers, newly developed synthetic molecules that deliver drugs to an aggressive tumour in children could be an improved version of neuroblastoma treatment.
A multidisciplinary team from diverse research centres in Madrid, including various hospitals, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and Complutense (UCM), has developed synthetic molecules which are able to specifically attach to neuroblastoma cells, therefore being a new form of neuroblastoma treatment.
Creating neuroblastoma treatment
The researchers are involved in the development of specific molecular scaffolds which can deliver drugs and diagnostic agents to the neuroblastoma, an aggressive tumour in children.
The development of a system that is able to recognise cancer cells and specifically deliver drugs to such cells will increase the efficiency of the therapy and reduce the unwanted effects. So far, mice have been used for the trials, but it is expected its application in humans within the next five years.
The neuroblastoma is a very aggressive paediatric tumour with a complex diagnosis when detected in the metastatic state. The current treatments consist of the administration of chemotherapeutic agents in order to kill cancer cells and slow the disease progression.
Unfortunately, these drugs lack specificity against cancer cells and cause numerous side effects and high systemic toxicity, compromising the chances of recovery and quality of life of the patients. In order to find new solutions to improve the treatment, various research centres from Madrid in collaboration with diverse hospitals started a study that is already showing good results.
Binding synthetic molecules
Researchers have synthesised a family of molecules which are able to specifically bind a protein found in the cell membrane of more than 90% of neuroblastoma cells, the norepinephrine transporter (NET).
Alejandro Baez, a UPM researcher involved in the project, explains: “These molecules have a small central structure composed by natural amino acids that work as scaffolds specifically designed to fit in the recognition centres of the NET protein in a similar way that a key fits the lock.”
“This way, the process of recognition is highly selective since the binding only occurs with the suitable “padlock” which is only located in the surface of neuroblastoma cells avoiding thus the healthy cells.”
The effectiveness of these molecular scaffolds was tested in lab mice suffering from this disease and the capacity of transporting both drugs and diagnostic agents were shown.
Researchers are currently working on the application of this technology to specific transport of antitumor drugs in neuroblastoma models similar to those that appear in humans.