Chemical Guided Missile Could Be the Answer to Wiping out Cancer

RNA Aptamer

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2011) — Deakin University medical scientists have created the world’s first cancer stem cell-targeting chemical missile, placing them a step closer to creating a medical ‘smart bomb’ that would seek out and eradicate the root of cancer cells.

The Deakin researchers have worked with scientists in India and Australia to create the world’s first RNA aptamer, a chemical antibody that acts like a guided missile to seek out and bind only to cancer stem cells. The aptamer has the potential to deliver drugs directly to the stem cells (the root of cancer cells) and also to be used to develop a more effective cancer imaging system for early detection of the disease. Their discoveries have been published recently in an international cancer research journal, Cancer Science.

The Director of Deakin Medical School’s Nanomedicine Program, Professor Wei Duan, said the development of the aptamer had huge implications for the way cancer is detected and treated.

“Despite technological and medical advances, the survival rates for many cancers remain poor, due partly to the inability to detect cancer early and then provide targeted treatment,” Professor Duan said.

“Current cancer treatments destroy the cells that form the bulk of the tumour, but are largely ineffective against the root of the cancer, the cancer stem cells. This suggests that in order to provide a cure for cancer we must accurately detect and eliminate the cancer stem cells.”

The aptamer is the first part of the ‘medical smart bomb’ the researchers have been developing.

“What we have created is the ‘guided missile’ part of the ‘smart bomb’,” Professor Duan explained.

“The aptamer acts like a guided missile, targeting the tumour and binding to the root of the cancer.

“The aim now is to combine the aptamer with the ‘bomb’ (a microscopic fat particle) that can carry anti-cancer drugs or diagnostic imaging agents directly to the cancer stem cells, creating the ultimate medical smart bomb.”

Professor Duan said the medical smart bomb opened up exciting possibilities for detection and treatment of cancer.

“The cancer stem cell-targeting missile and the smart bomb could revolutionise the way cancer is diagnosed,” he explained.

“The minute size of the aptamer means it could locate cancer cells in their very early stages. Attaching radioactive compounds to the aptamer could lead to the development of sensitive diagnostic scans for earlier detection, more accurate pinpointing of the location of cancer, better prediction of the chance of cure and improved monitoring of the response to treatment.

“More accurate identification of the type of cancer present would lead to more personalised treatment that is more successful and cost-effective.

“This could ultimately lead to better cancer survival rates and greatly improved quality of life for patients.”

More about the project

The project is a collaboration between Deakin University’s School of Medicine and Institute for Technology Research and Innovation and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, Institute of Life Science along with Barwon Health’s Andrew Love Cancer Centre and ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals. It has received $700,000 funding from the Federal Government’s Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, with reciprocal support from the Indian Government.

Cancer cells are made up of many cells that have different characteristics. They are, for example, like a tree with some cells being the root system and the others the branches and leaves; if you cut off the branches and leaves, the root of the tree is still alive. Current cancer treatments are ineffective in eradicating the whole cancer cell because they only kill the branches and leaves. The root cells are particularly tough and resistant to drugs and radiotherapy. They possess drug pumps that pumps out the anti-cancer drugs. This means that, while most of the cancer cell is killed, the cancer root remains and can regenerate. This makes the root cells (cancer stem cells) an important target for new cancer treatments.

There are two parts to the project being undertaken by the Deakin and Indian scientists.

The first is building the guided missile, or aptamer. The aptamer is a chemical antibody, much smaller and cheaper and easier to make than conventional antibodies, designed to bind specifically to cancer cells. It has been designed to effectively penetrate a tumour and specifically target cancer stem cells. This missile will carry the ‘bomb’; the second part of the drug delivery system.

The ‘bomb’ will be a very smart lipid, or fat particle that will remain stable in the body, i.e. it will not break down. This particle will carry the anti-cancer drug as well as anti-cancer genes.

When combined, the ‘smart bomb’ will be injected into the body and find the cancer cell. It will then enter the cell through an endosome route — a small road within the cell. Once inside the cell, it will very quickly release its contents and kill the whole cancer cell.

A unique part of the system being developed is that the bomb is very stable outside of the cancer cell, but once inside it will very quickly release its contents and kill the cancer cell from within. This system is made by materials that are very human compatible and human degradable — it is not toxic to other cells in the body and would cause very limited side-effects.

Google-backed Moon robot teams confirmed

18 February 2011 Last updated at 08:51 ET

The Lunar X-Prizes support Nasa's efforts to reduce the costs of space exploration

The final line-up of teams competing for the $30 million (£18.5m) robotic Moon-explorer prize has been confirmed.
The prize will go to the builders of the first robot to send back video as it travels over 500 metres of the Moon’s surface.

Competition organisers hope to spur the development of low-cost robotic space exploration.

The Google-sponsored Lunar X-Prize will be fought over by 29 teams from 17 different countries.

Organisers believe that the competition – first announced in 2007 – could have a winner by 2015.

“The official private race to the Moon is on,” said Peter Diamandis, chief executive of the X-Prize Foundation.

The teams come from a wildly divergent background, ranging from non-profit consortia and university groups to well-funded businesses.

Robotic explorers
Several of the teams have already bought rides on spacecraft to transport their robots.

Astrobotic Technology, a spin off-off from Carnegie Mellon University has signed a deal with SpaceX – the private space company set up by PayPal founder Elon Musk – to use its Falcon 9 rocket.

Meanwhile, government-backed space agencies are also planning to send craft to the Moon.

Spacecraft from a joint Russian and Indian team and a separate one from China are pencilled to set off for the Moon in 2013.

But the X-Prize’s backers think the future of space exploration will be driven by privately-funded groups.

“The most successful and revolutionary discoveries often come from small, entrepreneurial teams,” said Tiffany Montague, of Google Space Initiatives.

Tower of Power: Mystery of Ancient Jericho Monument Revealed


Since its discovery about 60 years ago, one of the earliest stone monuments in the history of humankind, a tower on the western edge of the ancient settlement of Tel Jericho, has inspired a number of theories about why it was built.

Now, after studying how the sun setting on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, interacted with the tower and the landscape around it, two archeologists from Tel Aviv University have concluded the 28-foot (8.5 meter) tower symbolized power and might.

“We suggest that the tower was built not just as a marker or a time-keeping device, but as a guardian against the dangers present in the darkness cast by a dying sun’s last rays of light,” write the researchers, Roy Liran and Ran Barkai, in the journal Antiquity. (After the summer solstice, the nights begin to grow longer.)

Their reconstruction revealed that, as the solstice sun set, the shadow of a hill to the west fell exactly on the Jericho tower before covering the village, suggesting the monument and the start of longer nights were linked.

The people who built this tower approximately 11,000 years ago were settled hunter-gatherers on the threshold of the transition to agriculture. Unlike their ancestors, they could no longer pack up and leave in times of danger or uncertainty.

The tower’s construction may be related to the primeval fears and cosmological beliefs of the villagers, the archaeologists speculate, though they have no scientific evidence of such.

“This was a time when hierarchy began and leadership was established,” Barkai told the Jerusalem Post. “We believe this tower was one of the mechanisms to motivate people to take part in a communal lifestyle.”

Others have theorized that the tower and a wall beside it were fortifications to protect the settlement, a defense against flooding, a geographical marker or a symbol of wealth.

You can follow LiveScience writer Wynne Parry on Twitter@Wynne_Parry.

Fossil find puts ‘Lucy’ story on firm footing

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

New fossil evidence seems to confirm that a key ancestor of ours could walk upright consistently – one of the major advances in human evolution.

The evidence comes in the form of a 3.2 million-year-old bone that was found at Hadar, Ethiopia.

Its shape indicates the diminutive, human-like species Australopithecus afarensis had arches in its feet.

Arched feet, the discovery team tells the journal Science, are critical for walking the way modern humans do.

“[The bone] gives a glimpse of foot anatomy and function,” explained William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, US.

“It is the fourth metatarsal bone, which resides on the outside of the middle part of your foot, and which helps support the well-developed arches of the foot that we see in the soles of modern human feet.

“The bone that was recovered from the Hadar site has all the hallmarks of the form and function of the modern human foot,” he told the BBC.

Arch types
Palaeo-scientists knew A. afarensis spent some of its time standing tall; that much has been clear since 1974 when they first examined a skeleton of the species, famously dubbed “Lucy”, also found near the village of Hadar in the Ethiopian rift valley.

But the absence of important foot bones in all of the specimens uncovered to date has made it difficult for researchers to understand precisely how much time Lucy and her kin spent on their feet, as opposed to moving through the branches of trees.

Human feet are very different from those of other primates. They have two arches, longitudinal and transverse.

These arches comprise the mid-foot bones, and are supported by muscles in the soles of the feet.

This construction enables the feet to perform two critical functions in walking. One is to act as a rigid lever that can propel the body forwards; the other is to act as a shock absorber as the feet touch the ground at the end of a stride.

In our modern ape cousins, the feet are more flexible, and sport highly mobile large toes that are important for gripping branches as the animals traverse the tree tops.

Professor Kimbel and colleagues tell Science journal that the feet of A. afarensis’ say a lot about the way it lived.

It would have been able to move across the landscape much more easily and much more quickly, potentially opening up broader and more abundant supplies of food, they say.

“Lucy’s spine has the double curve that our own spine does,” Professor Kimbel said.

“Her hips functioned much as human hips do in providing balance to the body with each step, which in a biped of course means that you’re actually standing on only one leg at a time during striding.

“The knees likewise in Lucy’s species are drawn underneath the body such that the thighbone, or femur, angles inwards to the knees from the hip-joints – as in humans.

“And now we can say that the foot, too, joins these other anatomical regions in pointing towards a fundamentally human-like form of locomotion in this ancient human ancestor.”

A. afarensis is thought to have existed between about 2.9 million and 3.7 million years ago, and the Hadar area has yielded hundreds of fossil specimens from the species.

Long road
Commenting on the latest research, Professor Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at London’s Natural History Museum, said scientists were gradually filling in the detail of this creature’s position in the human origins story.

“Bipedalism in Lucy is established, but there has been an issue about how much like our own that bipedalism was,” he told BBC News.

“Was it a more waddling gait or something more developed?

“And certainly there’s evidence in the upper body that the Australopithecines still seemed to have climbing adaptations – so, the hand bones are still quite strongly curved and their arms suggest they’re still spending time in the trees.

“If you are on the ground all the time, you need to find shelter at night and you are in a position to move out into open countryside, which has implications for new resources – scavenging and meat-eating, for example.

“If the Australopithecines were on that road, they were only at the very, very beginning of it.”