One of the biggest problems with today’s cancer treatments is their toxicity. Though they’re designed to be particularly effective against rogue cells, they often have horrible side effect.
But now, researchers may have found a unique way to target gynecological cancers: sperm.
The researchers—led by Mariana Medina-Sánchez from the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Germany—drench the little swimmers in the chemotherapy doxorubicin. Then they force the sperm into iron-coated harnesses, which allow the researchers to steer the swimmers once they’re inside the body.
When the sperm collides with its target, the harness opens up, allowing the sperm to swim through and burrow into the tissue, payload and all.
Here’s Emerging Technology from the arXiv:
The team found that the harness significantly slows down sperm, reducing its speed by 43 percent. However, it can still move and enter cancer cells. They show that the mechanism effectively kills cancer cells and that the sperms cells can penetrate the cancerous spheroids, helping to kill cells inside.
Sperm isn’t the first such delivery method—other researchers have tried bacteria, for example—but they do have advantages over existing techniques. Sperm don’t have the potential to cause infections like bacteria, and they tend to protect the drugs they carry from damaging enzymes.
Sánchez and her team still have their work cut out for them. Dosing is one potential problem—they need to regulate how much of the drug each sperm cell soaks up, as well as how many are able to make it to their final destination. And if human cells are used—so far they’ve only tested using the similarly-sized bull sperm—there will undoubtedly be ethical and practical considerations, namely the source of the sperm and the possibility of unwanted pregnancy.
The sperm-delivery technique is targeted at diseases specific to the female reproductive tract, including gynecological cancer, which is diagnosed in about 100,000 women in the U.S. every year.