Sci-Fi fans have long been watching the ideas of their favorite authors become reality. The idea that a man could go to the moon was once a fantasy, and that is now a long established fact of science. This researchers may make another classic come to life. Those of you that remember the 1966 Hollywood movie, Fantastic Voyage
and its medical vehicle shrunk small enough to “submarine” in and fix faulty
cells in the body will be interested to hear about the new research by Tel Aviv University
scientists. It may make that fantasy to reality transition only three years away.
The blueprints for the submarine and a map of its proposed maiden voyage were published earlier this year in Science by Dr. Dan Peer, who now leads the Tel Aviv University team at the Department of Cell Research and Immunology.
The team will build and test-run the actual “machine” in human bodies.
Dr. Peer originally developed the scenario at Harvard University.
Made from biological materials, the real-life medical submarine’s Fantastic Voyage
won’t have enough room for Raquel Welch, but the nano-sized structure
will be big enough to deliver the payload: effective drugs to kill
cancer cells and eradicate faulty proteins. Yes, you read that right, biological materials. So that unlike the metal sub in the movie this one can pass into your body without giving your metal poisoning or injuring your body.
A Nano-GPS System
Dr. Dan Peer
lab is creating biological nano-machines,” says Dr. Peer. “These
machines can target specific cells. In fact, we can target any protein
that might be causing disease or disorder in the human body. This new
invention treats the source, not the symptoms.”
Dr. Peer’s reported on the device’s
ability to target leukocytes (immune cells) in the guts of mice with
ulcerative colitis. Calling his new invention a submarine, Dr. Peer has
developed a nano-sized carrier which operates like a GPS system to
locate and target cells. In the case of Crohn’s disease, for example,
it will target overactive immune system cells in the gut. In other
diseases such as cancer, the submarine can aim for and deliver material
to specific cancer cells, leaving the surrounding healthy cells intact.
While other researchers are working in the area of
nano-medicine and drug delivery, Dr. Peer’s submarines are among the
first to combine a drug candidate with a drug delivery system. An important step no doubt because if you have a drug with poor delivery or a strong delivery system with weak drug the patient will not get the best and most effective treatment. As the
submarines float through the body, they latch onto the target cell and
deliver their payload, a drug based on RNAi. This new kind of drug can
affect faulty RNA machinery and reprogram cells to operate in normal
ways. In essence, RNAi can essentially restore health to diseased cells
or cause cells to die (like in the case of cancer cells).
Learning from the Body’s Own System
Large pharmaceutical companies have already
expressed interest in this research, for obvious reasons tied to the large potential profits, and in the area of RNAi in general.
Currently, the Tel Aviv University lab is
pairing its medical submarine with different RNAi compounds to target
different pathologies, such as cancer, inflammation, and
“We have tapped into the same ancient system the
human body uses to protect itself from viruses,” says Dr. Peer, who is
also investigating a number of topical applications for his medical
subs. “And the beauty of it is the basic material of our nano-carriers
is natural,” he says.
The Tel Aviv University
team plans to launch their medical submarines, following FDA
regulations, within three to five years. Their immediate focus is on
blood, pancreatic, breast and brain cancers.