Notre Dame-developed drug-targeting molecules to improve cancer treatment

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. (WNDU) - Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed small drug-targeting molecules that may be hundreds to thousands of times more effective at delivering potent drugs right to the site of disease.

Inside McCourtney Hall, Notre Dame researchers are hard at work. Assistant professor Matthew Webber has been here for three years. For the past two, he's dedicated his time to a big project: improving cancer treatment.

"In cancer, people are very familiar with the side effects of the drug," Webber said. "People know when someone has undergone chemotherapy, they recognize hair loss, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea – these types of symptoms. These are symptoms of the drug acting in tissue, where maybe you don't want it to act."

Their goal is to give patients a better quality of life with fewer chemo side effects.

"I kind of always thought it should work, and so it was just a matter of actually getting all the right pieces in place to show that it would work. We were pretty confident," Webber said.

And the confidence paid off. A compound was developed from a new material described as an easily injected "hydrogel" that worked on mice.

"If you have a site where you know there is disease such as cancer, you could actually pretarget this site with our injectable gel, and then, over the course of maybe weeks following that, as you are undergoing chemotherapy, our gel would serve to concentrate the chemotherapy at the site," Webber said. "This could mean lower doses, it could mean less active drug molecules in the body and other places so your hair isn't affected, your gastrointestinal system leading to nausea isn't affected and really the potency of the drug is focused at the tumor site."

It is early, but there are already encouraging results that will hopefully one day help real cancer patients.

"This is actually pretty exciting to see," Webber said. "You can inject this and see an entire species light up, and then all of a sudden the drug is really focused at one particular site."

As for what's next, it's back to work. There is still quite a bit of research before their work can be used in a human clinical trial.

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