In my story yesterday, I said that the fusion of science and technology — nanotechnology — has the potential to revolutionize the medical world, and that many of the new treatments could originate right here in San Diego.

Today I learned about the “smart bomb,” a new strategy that researchers at the University of California, San Diego, designed to deliver a dose of anti-cancer drugs straight to specific blood cells that feed cancer, without harming healthy tissue in the area.

A second benefit of the treatment is that, because 100 percent of the drug is unloaded directly on the cancer-feeding cells, much lower doses — 15 times less than normal — are needed.

Because traditional cancer medicines and treatments aren’t selective about which cells they kill, healthy body tissue is often destroyed along with the tumor. Chemotherapy, for instance, floods the entire body, not just the tumor, with cancer-killing toxins. And lower doses of toxic chemotherapy drugs would spare patients of many of the side effects, such as weight loss and nausea, that accompany cancer treatments.

Like so much medical research underway, the treatment’s success is based in nanotechnology.

Technically, the smart bomb is a customized nanoparticle — a microscopic-sized unit made of tiny molecules strung in long, repeating chains — that is engineered to recognize and hone in on a protein marker found on the surface of cancer-feeding blood cells. When the smart bomb reaches that target, it drops its drug load and kills it.

What’s interesting about the smart bomb strategy is that it didn’t seem to have much impact on the original tumor, but it stopped the cancer from moving throughout the bodies of the mice researchers used in the study. David Cheresh, a pathologist who led the research, said that could be because metastasis is extremely dependent on the growth of the cancer-feeding blood vessels that the smart bomb specifically targets.

Cancer metastasis, the medical term for cancer that results in another part of the body when a tumor spreads, is what often leads to a patient’s death because it is much more difficult to treat than the original tumor.

The smart bomb/drug combination therapy has only been tested in mice so far. No word on when human clinical trials could begin.

— DARRYN BENNETT

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