Elena Batrakova, senior author of the study, and her colleagues from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery used exosomes — which come from white blood cells — to carry the cancer drug paclitaxel.
“We are developing new drug formulations that will allow drugs to be more efficient and pass through barriers. So that’s my goal. I’m taking potent drugs that may not be working and developing their drug delivery systems,” Batrakova said, who said she has worked in drug delivery for approximately 25 years.
After starting this study about five years ago, Batrakova said she and her colleagues found packing paclitaxel in exosomes protected it from being destroyed by bodily defenses, letting health care providers administer much less of the drug.
“Exosomes are used by nature for cell-to-cell communication. These exosomes consist of the same materials as cellular membranes, so they easily fuse with other cell membranes and deliver their materials,” Batakova said.
“We want to load tumors with anti-cancer drugs and treat cancer so the patients will survive.”
Batrakova’s colleague, Alexander Kabanov, said he also played a key role in the research because of his 25 years of experience in the field and previous collaborations with Batrakova.
“We started working on exosomes back in Nebraska where Elena and I were working in the medical center, and then we both moved from Nebraska to Carolina,” Kabanov said.
Kabanov said his role was to load the exosomes with the drug and ensure the drug was pharmaceutically acceptable.
Myung Soo Kim, a graduate student in the Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics and lead author of the study, said a positive effect of the study is decreasing side effects.
“A lot of cancers are able to develop resistance and that makes it harder to treat, so if we’re able to treat with less chemo than usually required, it’s a big step forward in preventing side effects and such” Kim said.
The researchers spent approximately $700,000 on this investigation and there are still plans to further the research.
“The next step will be establishing the formulation and the reproducibility. We also need to establish the safety profile — how much we could inject and the best way to administer. We’re working on the funding of this project, as well,” Batrakova said.