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"Highway To Heal" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists seeking to improve cancer treatments have created a tiny drug transporter that maximizes its ability to silence damaging genes by finding the equivalent of an expressway into a target cell.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: transit shuttle voice on speaker) "Doors Closing"
Next Stop, Cancer Central

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Tiny devices to shuttle meds or treatments directly into cancer cells have been around for a while but with limited effectiveness. Now scientists at Ohio State have developed a new way of transporting that could help put certain kinds of treatment in the express lane.

Their new nano-carrier has innovations that set it apart from conventional drug transporters: helper molecules have been added to its surface so it can slip more easily into the cell. (Sound effect: model T sound) While traditional methods take the back road into the cancer cell, this new transporter takes the highway. (Sound effect: car accelerating on highway)

Because it gets to the main body of the cancer cell faster, it can spend more time doing its job, with less chance of getting broken down along the way.

Inside the transporter is a piece of synthetic RNA. Segments called "small interfering RNA" get deposited into the cancer cell to 'silence' certain genes making them unable to produce necessary proteins for a prolonged period of time. Without the proteins, the cell can no longer function. This new formulation has proven to be six times more effective than previous carriers in cutting off these proteins. The team is working to further test this approach as a potential vehicle for treating some cancers.

Who knows, we could go from the cancer-fighting back roads onto the "highway to heal."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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