A medical 'smart bomb' that would seek out and eradicate the root of cancer cells can soon be a reality as scientists have developed the world's first cancer stem cell-targeting chemical missile.
Deakin University medical scientists have worked with scientists in India and Australia to create the world's first RNA aptamer, a chemical antibody that acts like a guided missile to seek out and bind only to cancer stem cells.
The aptamer has the potential to deliver drugs directly to the stem cells (the root of cancer cells) and also to be used to develop a more effective cancer imaging system for early detection of the disease.
The Director of Deakin Medical School's Nanomedicine Program, Wei Duan, said the development of the aptamer had huge implications for the way cancer is detected and treated.
The aptamer is the first part of the 'medical smart bomb' the researchers have been developing.
"What we have created is the 'guided missile' part of the 'smart bomb'. The aptamer acts like a guided missile, targeting the tumour and binding to the root of the cancer," said Duan.
"The aim now is to combine the aptamer with the 'bomb' (a microscopic fat particle) that can carry anti-cancer drugs or diagnostic imaging agents directly to the cancer stem cells, creating the ultimate medical smart bomb," he said.
Duan said the medical smart bomb has opened up exciting possibilities for detection and treatment of cancer.
"The minute size of the aptamer means it could locate cancer cells in their very early stages. Attaching radioactive compounds to the aptamer could lead to the development of sensitive diagnostic scans for earlier detection, more accurate pinpointing of the location of cancer, better prediction of the chance of cure and improved monitoring of the response to treatment.
"More accurate identification of the type of cancer present would lead to more personalised treatment that is more successful and cost-effective," he added.
The findings have been published in the journal Cancer Science.