Breast cancer that has metastasized to the brain may be conquered by a surgeon from Indiana University School of Medicine by using glass, gold, nanotechnology and Greek mythology.
Susan E. Clare, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery at the IU School of Medicine, is the initiating principal investigator for a 573,000-dollar Department of Defense grant that will allow her to explore a new approach to delivering therapy to brain metastases from primary breast cancer.
As did the Greeks of old, Dr. Clare hopes to covertly deliver "warriors" to the enemy stronghold, in this case a metastatic brain tumor.
Her research will explore using a cell from the body's immune system to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain metastases.
The drug or other therapeutic is attached to the nanospheres, which are carried within the immune cell, much as soldiers were carried within the Trojan Horse.
The immune cells travel in the bloodstream and release the drug when it has reached the tumor site.
The two kinds of breast cancer that most commonly metastasize to the brain are HER2 positive and triple negative.
There is no specifically targeted treatment available to treat triple negative metastatic tumors, but lapatinib is a standard treatment for HER2 positive cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
"The problem for almost all drugs, and HER2-targeted drugs are no exception, is that the blood-brain barrier is a significant impediment to delivering therapies in concentrations that can be effective," Dr. Clare said.
That biological issue caused Dr. Clare to explore other methods of delivering drugs to metastatic brain tumors.
Using nanoparticles called "nanoshells," developed by Naomi J. Halas, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics at Rice University, Dr. Clare hopes to target the brain tumors with lapatinib at a dose sufficient to shut down the signaling pathway needed for the cancer cells to proliferate.
Drs. Clare and Halas and colleagues showed that the immune cells carrying the nanoparticles were able to cross the blood-brain barrier and home in to brain metastases in an experimental mouse model.
This research was published in the journal Cancer Nanotechnology.