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Israeli procedure targets, destroys bone-marrow cancer cells

“The system is the first to effectively reach cancer cells inside the marrow,” said Tel Aviv University professor Dan Peer.

Myeloma, July 30, 2023. Photo by Ella Maru Studio via TPS.
Myeloma, July 30, 2023. Photo by Ella Maru Studio via TPS.

In a groundbreaking development in the fight against myeloma, Israeli researchers have developed a targeted procedure to effectively destroy cancer within bone marrow.

Myeloma, also known as “multiple myeloma,” is a cancer of the plasma cells, which are produced inside bone marrow. As cancer spreads within the bone marrow of myeloma patients, the body’s cells that normally produce both red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, are disrupted. White blood cells in particular play a key role in producing antibodies that protect people from infection.

Most people are diagnosed with around the age of 70. It’s not known what causes it, but family history is a known risk factor. Anyone exposed to radiation or to carcinogens such as pesticides, benzene and asbestos is thought to be at higher risk as well.

Myeloma has no cure. Once diagnosed, patients can live five to 10 years, some even for 20, but this depends on effective treatment to manage the cancer. Currently, it is treated with steroids, bone-modifying drugs and chemotherapy.

But a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and Rabin Medical Center in Petach Tikvah have discovered a method of destroying cancer cells inside the bone marrow with a targeted system using an RNA-based drug delivered to the cells by targeted lipid nanoparticles. The team’s research and findings were published in Advanced Science, a peer-reviewed journal, on Thursday.

Led by Tel Aviv University’s professor Dan Peer, the researchers developed lipid-based nanoparticles, similar to those used in the COVID-19 vaccine, which carried RNA molecules designed to silence the gene CKAP5. This gene encodes the cytoskeleton-associated protein 5 —and when inhibited, it renders the cancer cells unable to divide, ultimately leading to their demise.

“The targeted drug delivery system we developed is the first to effectively reach cancer cells inside the bone marrow,” Peer explained. “Our technology opens a new world for selective delivery of RNA medications and vaccines for cancer tumors and diseases originating in the bone marrow.”

The research team coated the nanoparticles with antibodies that guided them to the cancer cells within the bone marrow, thereby minimizing the risk of damage to healthy, noncancerous cells.

Under laboratory conditions, where cells are grown in flasks, the nanoparticles developed by the researchers eradicated about 90% of the cancer cells. In the second stage, the new treatment was tested on cancer samples taken from myeloma patients being treated at the Rabin Medical Center. The success rate in these samples was 60%.

In the third stage, when the team tested the ability of the nanoparticles to reach the bone marrow in an animal model, the researchers found that after a single injection, the RNA had penetrated 60% of the multiple myeloma cancer cells in the bone marrow.

“People with multiple myeloma suffer from severe pain in their bones, anemia, kidney failure and a weakened immune system,” said Dana Tarab-Ravski, a PhD student involved in the research. “There is a constant need for developing new treatments for multiple myeloma, and RNA-based therapy offers a great advantage because it can be developed quickly and tailored to individual patients.”

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