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Algae designed to fight cancer

By Leonard Ho - Posted Nov 13, 2015 09:00 AM
Nico Voelcker (University of South Australia) teamed up with researchers from Germany to bio-engineer a cancer-seeking diatom that kills 90% of cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
Algae designed to fight cancer

Diatoms as cancer smartbombs?

In 2012, researchers at University of California at San Diego bioengineered Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a green algae, to produce complex therapeutic proteins to fight cancer.  But when it comes to pharmaceuticals (especially anti-cancer treatments), often times the problem isn't just finding the right chemicals but also how to deliver that chemical where it needs to go to be effective while also not killing good cells as collateral damage.

Now, researchers have figured out how these proteins might be able to hitch a ride on diatoms to targeted cancer cells.

As aquarists know, diatoms are microscopic algae that create nano-porous silica shells.  Researchers have engineered an antibody-binding (cancer-fighting) protein into the silica matrix of a marine diatom, Thalassiosira pseudonana, in order to target the treatment at cancer cells.  Says the study: "genetically engineered biosilica frustules may be used as versatile 'backpacks' for the targeted delivery of poorly water-soluble anticancer drugs to tumour sites."

One day, one type of algae might be carrying chemicals engineered from another type of algae in our fight against cancer.  We'll never look at algae the same way.

The study is published in Nature Communications.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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