Sharjah research edges closer to powerful new targeted cancer therapy

New treatments on the horizon to improve survival rates and patient care

Researchers at American University of Sharjah have secured a US patent for a new cancer therapy.  Sarah Dea / The National
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Tiny capsules loaded with chemotherapy drugs fired directly into a patient’s cancer tissue could help transform the way breast cancer is treated, according to research at the American University of Sharjah.

Under the new treatment, medication taken intravenously via a catheter is packed with anti-cancer agents including nine chemotherapy drugs, which are then activated by ultrasound waves to make sure the medication is applied directly to the affected tissues.

The use of these tiny capsules, known as Herceptin-targeted nanocarriers, will therefore treat cancerous areas while avoiding damage to surrounding cells.

It is hoped the therapy can minimise side effects, while delivering maximum impact in killing off cancerous cells.

And with wide access to ultrasound, it is hoped the treatment can be introduced in most hospitals once it is approved.

A US patent has been secured for the work, put together by researchers from the university’s biological engineering and environmental sciences division.

"This approach ensures the delivery of highly concentrated therapeutic doses to cancerous cells while sparing healthy cells, significantly reducing the adverse side effects that often accompany chemotherapy,” said Dr Ghaleb Husseini, AUS professor in chemical and biological engineering, who led the research.

This patent represents a remarkable advancement in the realm of cancer treatment
Dr Ghaleb Husseini, AUS professor in chemical and biological engineering

“This is why this patent represents a remarkable advancement in the realm of cancer treatment, opening doors to more effective and less burdensome therapies for cancer patients.

“The patent's significance lies in its suitability for diseases like breast tumours, given the widespread availability of ultrasound equipment in clinics, making this technology more accessible to patients.”

Powered by ultrasound

A patent for the therapy was previously secured in 2020, with the latest stamp acknowledging tweaks to the treatment that uses high frequency and high-powered ultrasound.

Researchers are now looking at in vivo testing aimed at fine-tuning the ultrasound parameters, a crucial step towards the technology’s practical application.

“This patent is a testament to our relentless pursuit of better, less invasive therapies that can transform the lives of cancer patients,” said Dr Mohammad Al Sayah, a professor in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences at the AUS College of Arts and Sciences.

Breast cancer is the single most common form of the disease in the UAE.

According to the Global Cancer Observatory, it accounts for about 21 per cent of all diagnosed cancers, followed by colorectal (10.6 per cent ) thyroid (8.4 per cent) leukaemia ( 5.7 per cent) and prostate cancer (5.6 per cent).

Cancer treatment is on the threshold of a new era of therapies that promise to improve patient care and survival rates.

Several new cancer drugs approved in 2023 promise to unleash new weapons in the fight against it in the near future.

They include targeted therapies and novel treatments ranging from therapies for B-cell malignancies, colorectal cancer, and paediatric brain cancer to treatments for prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, and various haematological cancers.

UAE research

Scientists in the UAE are also playing their part, helping to move medicine a step closer to finding a cure for cancer altogether.

Anixa Biosciences, a biotech company, recently shared encouraging updates from its Phase 1 clinical trial of a breast cancer vaccine. This trial, in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic and funded by the US Department of Defence, aims to develop a vaccine for breast cancer treatment and prevention.

The vaccine specifically targets triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a challenging form to treat.

The trial involved patients previously treated for TNBC, who then received a series of three vaccinations, each two weeks apart.

After vaccines were administered, the response of the patient’s T-cells – which play a vital role in immunity – were checked, as well as the production of antibodies.

The majority of patients showed significant T-cell responses and a notable boost in immunity, with no significant side effects.

“This study represents a significant step in breast cancer research, offering hope for new preventive and treatment strategies,” said Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, head of Emirates Oncology Society.

“This study highlight the potential of vaccine-based therapies in combating cancer.”

According to the latest American Cancer Society report, released on Wednesday, cancer mortality has declined in the US since 1991 but more adults under the age of 50 are now being diagnosed with it.

The report states that four million deaths have been avoided, mainly due to reductions in smoking, earlier detection for some cancers and improved treatment options.

Female breast cancer incidence rates have been slowly increasing by about 0.6 per cent every year since the mid-2000s but, while mortality peaked in 1989, it has since decreased by 42 per cent in 2021.

Of the three adult categories, those under 50, those aged 50-64 and adults older than 65, only the younger category saw an increase in overall cancer incidence from 1995-2020.

Updated: January 18, 2024, 11:09 AM