Balloons illustration
The nanoparticles used in this study were specifically designed to deliver their cargo to lung cancer cells that express a protein known as the scavenger receptor class B type I receptor. (Ilustration: iStock)

It can be decades before a scientific discovery leads to a treatment. A prime example of this is the discovery of RNA interference – a mechanism by which cells are able to silence specific genes using molecules known as small interfering RNA (siRNA).

The discovery was made more than two decades ago and was lauded as a scientific breakthrough that won the two scientists who made the finding a Nobel Prize for Medicine. 

But a transformative therapy based on this discovery has remained elusive. This is partly because targeting siRNAs to disease targets – for example, cancer cells – remains a challenge.

UHN researcher Dr. Kazuhiro Yasufuku recently published a report describing a new siRNA technology that takes advantage of nanotechnology to overcome this hurdle to deliver siRNA to lung cancer cells.

For the study, Dr. Yasufuku and his team obtained tissues from patients with lung cancer and looked for genes that were highly expressed in lung cells and linked to cancer cell growth. They discovered more than 60 genes that were essential for lung cancer cell growth and selected one – kinesin family member-11 (KIF-11) – for further investigation.

The researchers then generated a siRNA molecule that targets KIF-11 and linked it to a tiny particle (nanoparticle) that recognizes and infiltrates cancer cells. These newly designed nanoparticles significantly reduced the levels of KIF-11 gene expression and dramatically slowed cancer growth in an experimental model of lung cancer.

"Our study demonstrates that it is possible to develop siRNAs that specifically target cancer cells," Dr. Yasufuku explains. "We are continuing to refine this technique in hopes of developing customized treatments for patients with advanced lung cancer who currently have little to no therapeutic options and high rates of mortality."

This work was supported by The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. ​

Dr. Kazuhiro Yasufuku
UHN researcher Dr. Kazuhiro Yasufuku says his team is continuing to refine their technique in hopes of developing customized treatments for patients with advanced lung cancer. (Photo: UHN)

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