NOV 22, 2015 11:15 AM PST

Bioengineered Algae

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Have scientists found a cancer-fighting algae that kills 90% of cancerous cells? Yes, and no.

As the video explains, scientists have used the algae to successfully fight cancer, but what kills the cancer are the anti-cancer drugs that scientists have packed inside the algae.

The anti-cancer drugs are not new, and neither are the algae, which are tiny, unicellular photosynthesizing diatoms in high abundance. What the breakthrough centers on is the genetic modification of the algae to produce an antibody-binding protein on their surfaces. This means that binding only occurs to cancerous cells that produce the molecule corresponding to the protein on the algae surface.

So instead of injecting patients with highly toxic anti-cancer drugs without any control in where they act, scientists can now pack the algae with the drug knowing that it will only kill the cancer cells. The team did just this, injected the algae into tumor-bearing mice, and found that the tumors shrunk by 90%. Remarkably, the healthy cells were not affected, showing a high specificity of this new drug carrier.

In essence, the modified algae are biodegradable "backpacks" carrying chemotheraputic drugs to kill cancer cells. And because these "backpacks" are tiny living diatoms in abundance, scientists foresee lowering the cost of manufacturing dramatically.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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