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Nanotechnology breakthrough targets cancerous tumors

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Corvallis, Ore. - A team of Oregon State University (OSU) scientists successfully used nanotechnology to detect and define cancer tumors, introducing a less invasive way to fight cancer in humans and animals.

Corvallis, Ore. — A team of Oregon State University (OSU) scientists successfully used nanotechnology to detect and define cancer tumors, introducing a less invasive way to fight cancer in humans and animals.

The use of tiny molecules designed for a specific task — a process called nanotechnology — allowed the researchers to create amino-acid compounds that attach to cancer tumors because of their low pH levels.

"The nanotechnology is a small synthetic protein that is sensitive to the acidity in the environment. The body controls pH very tightly; however, cancers are often rapidly growing cells that use a lot of glucose. This causes them to create an acidic environment in the tumor," says John Mata, PhD, senior research assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and lead author of the study. "The nanotechnology responds to the acidic environment by becoming less soluble in the blood and attaching itself to the cells within the tumor."

In development for about 12 years, the technology marks one of the first times a peptide has been designed specifically to target cells based on tumor physiology. Designed to activate when encountering low pH levels produced within a growing tumor, the peptide, called PAP-1, is a compound of 18 amino acids. Developed by James Summerton, former OSU biochemist and founder of Gene Tools, LLC of Philomath, Ore., the peptide design marked the key breakthrough of the research.

Applied to animal testing in the last four years, nanotechnology is expected to have a large impact on veterinary medicine. "Cancer is a concern in small-animal medicine as well as human medicine. This technology should be useful in multiple species because it targets this physiology within tumors," Mata says.

Despite the importance the technology may have on cancer identification and treatment, it is reasonably priced, Mata says.

"At cost per dose, this technology is relatively cheap to use for diagnostics. It takes very little material because the peptide accumulates in the tumor and not in other areas of the body," he says.

The development of the still-experimental breakthrough came out of the partnership of about 12 collaborators with varying backgrounds, including a graduate student, veterinary surgeon and veterinary anesthesiologist and multiple technicians, radiologists, chemists and pharmacologists, Mata says.

The team will continue to work together in hopes of making further strides with the technology. "The process is still experimental and may take years to get into clinical trials," Mata says. "This work is just the first step in a process that could create a whole platform of therapeutics that are based on pH-sensitive peptides."

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