Improved access to state-of-the-art and affordable medical care - especially in oncology and cardiology - is vital to ensuring that Europe’s ageing population is capable of taking care of itself in the future. New therapeutic options, such as externally triggered local drug release, represent one promising route currently being explored by European researchers.
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Around 50% of patients diagnosed with cancer undergo chemotherapy to treat their disease. Chemotherapy drugs flow through the bloodstream in search of rapidly dividing cells like cancer cells. But in their quest to fight disease, these potent drugs end up attacking normal, healthy dividing cells which leads to undesirable side effects. A targeted delivery method could be one way to tackle this issue.
This is the objective of the EU-funded ’Image-controlled ultrasound-induced drug delivery‘ project (Sonodrugs). The team believes that nanomedicine, the application of nanomaterials and nanotechnology to health care, can lead to cost-effective treatments with fewer side effects, less burden on the patient, and faster recovery time.
Revolutionising drug delivery
"Sonodrugs is addressing clinical needs by developing novel drug-delivery technologies for localised treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease", explains project coordinator Charles Sio. "It is developing innovative concepts where drug release can be triggered by focused ultrasound-induced pressure or temperature stimuli within the diseased tissue."
To achieve this, new drug-loaded nanocarriers are being designed for tailored drug-delivery systems that respond to either of these two stimuli. Magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound imaging will then be used to guide, follow and quantify the drug delivery process, at the nanoscopic level.
"Following research on a broad range of materials and drugs, two nanocarriers have ultimately been selected, optimised and evaluated in combination with image-guided delivery tools and methods," says Dr Sio. "The aim is to bring a promising new therapy option forward."
The potential benefits are tremendous - locally triggered release increases the delivery of drugs to the sites in the body where they are needed, increasing the effectiveness of the drug in attacking the disease while decreasing the body’s exposure to possible toxicity and related side effects.
Now in its final stages, this highly interdisciplinary project combined chemistry and technology, diagnosis and therapy, and called on the expertise of academic partners, university hospitals, SMEs and large industry. The project has resulted in eight patents on nanocarriers, hardware and methods, 36 publications in high-ranking journals and over 100 presentations at international conferences. During the course of the project, three PhD trajectories have been finished successfully, two PhD theses are in preparation, and at least five more are in the pipeline.
Thanks to the team’s dedicated work - both fundamental research and applied science - significant advancements have been made in the development of novel treatment methods. A body of knowledge has been built up, and young European scientists are now experts in this field. This increases the potential for health-care innovations by European academic institutions, hospitals, and industries, backed by patents on several key findings.
"Our concepts have been successfully tested in preclinical studies for the delivery of the anti-cancer drug doxorubicin and RNA-based compounds against cardiovascular diseases," says Dr Sio. "Extrapolating these results, the platform can potentially be used for many different drugs, providing opportunities for European pharmaceutical companies."
Perhaps more importantly, however, patients may have access to treatments with higher efficacy and fewer side effects, which may improve their quality of life and reduce the debilitating effects of these dreadful diseases. What’s more, doctors may have access to new treatment methods and, overall, the costs to society of the disease may decrease.