Scientists in Europe and Australia have had a breakthrough in cancer research that is being lauded as a potential cure for cancer. The researchers have created genetically engineered algae that can be used to kill cancer cells without harming the healthy cells. And if it works outside the lab, it could very well change the way cancer is treated.
Researchers from the University of South Australia and Dresden, Germany, worked together on a study using genetically altered algae to fight cancer cells. In lab studies, the team found that the algae killed 90 percent of cancer cells in human cell cultures. The algae also had a high success rate for killing cancer cells in mouse tumors. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
PHOTO BREAK: 12 bizarre examples of genetic engineering
So how did the algae kill cancer cells? The researchers used diatom algae as an agent to transport chemotherapy drugs, mimicking silica-based materials that are expensive to create. Diatom algae are one-celled photosynthesizing organisms that are relatively easy to grow with water and light. Researchers were able to alter the algae so that it would bind only to molecules found on cancer cells. Then, they were able to hide the cancer drugs inside the algae. This method allowed them to deliver cancer-killing drugs only to cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells alone.
Essentially, they used the algae as "backpacks" to hold the chemo drugs. And then altered the backpacks so that they only fit on cancer cells.
And it worked — on both human cultured cancer cells and tumors in mice. The genetically engineered algae killed 90 percent of the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.
The best part about this promising breakthrough is that unlike many components of cancer treatments, algae are relatively inexpensive to manufacture. They require only water and light to grow. Thus, their use in increasing the precision of cancer treatments could revolutionize the way chemotherapy medications are delivered.