Project DREAM: Using Aptamers to Decrease Side-Effects of Anti-Cancer Drugs

Project DREAM, led by Principal Investigators Dr. Carla Cruz (University of Beira Interior) and Dr. Andy Ellington (University of Texas at Austin) aims to mitigate the harmful side effects of anticancer drugs by using a unique nanosystem to target tumor cells and prevent healthy tissues from exposure to the otherwise toxic drugs. Recently, Dr. Cruz and Dr. Ellington were interviewed by a representative from the UT Austin Portugal Program (a major partnership program in between the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and UT) regarding their unique approach and explained how an aptamer known as AS1411 could be modified to better carry drugs to tumors. “Previously, it was demonstrated that these aptamers can selectively deliver anticancer ligands,” Dr. Cruz said, such as acridine orange derivatives, and showed improved selectivity towards cancer cell lines. However, she continued, “moderate concentrations and long incubations were required to observe cytotoxicity.” In order to improve the selectivity and efficacy of the aptamers, they were conjugated to gold nanoparticles, which are preferentially internalized by tumor cells. Better cytotoxic effects were achieved with shorter incubation periods (2 days). The DREAM project ultimately includes researchers from two Portuguese laboratories (CICS-UBI and C2TN-IST), a public hospital (CHCB), a company (Labfit-HPRD) and the Ellington Lab from UT Austin, and overall the team hopes to move compounds towards clinical utility within 5 years via the COST Action program (a network for nationally funded research projects).

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