Researchers have successfully tested a “Trojan horse” drug that can kill cancer and bacterial cells without harming neighboring healthy tissue.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh combined the tiny cancer-killing molecule SeNBD with a chemical compound to induce malignant cells to ingest it.
The peer-reviewed experimental study was conducted on zebrafish and human cells, but the researchers say more studies are needed to confirm whether it is a safe and rapid way to treat early-stage cancer and drug-resistant bacteria.
Cancer cells are “greedy” and need to consume large amounts of food for energy and usually ingest more than healthy cells, said the University of Edinburgh.
Coupling SeNBD with a chemical food compound makes it “ideal prey for harmful cells”, which ingest it “without being made aware of its toxic nature”.
The drug was invented by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who compared it to a Trojan horse and compared it to a “metabolic warhead”.
SeNBD is also a light activated photosensitizer, which means it doesn’t kill cells until it’s turned on by visible light.
This means a surgeon can decide exactly when to activate the drug, reducing the chances of healthy tissue being destroyed and avoiding side effects like hair loss from other anti-cancer drugs, the university said.
The results are published in the journal Nature Communications.
Lead Researcher Professor Marc Vendrell, Chair of Translational Chemistry and Biomedical Imaging at the University of Edinburgh said, “This research represents an important advance in the development of new therapies that can be easily activated by light irradiation, which is generally very safe .
“SeNBD is one of the smallest photosensitizers ever made and its use as a ‘Trojan horse’ opens up many new possibilities in interventional medicine to kill harmful cells without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue.”
Dr. Sam Benson, a postdoctoral fellow at the university, said the mechanism by which the drug is delivered means it is delivered through the “doorstep of the cell” rather than “having to find a way to break the cell’s defenses”.
The legend of the Trojan horse in Greek mythology tells the story of Greek soldiers who built a huge hollowed out wooden horse to hide in to gain access to the city of Troy after pretending to leave the war.
The Trojans took the massive structure as a gift and inserted it into the city walls, only for Greek warriors to emerge from within and plunder the city.