Nigerian varsity develops new cancer drug


The African University of Science and Technology (AUST) has discovered a new drug and method for the treatment of cancer, its President and Provost, Professor Wole Soboyejo, said in Abuja.

Soboyejo said the feat was achieved in the course of the ongoing research into cancer treatment, adding the the research was already showing reasonable conclusions of a nanotechnology-based cancer treatment.

The drug development, he said, is a collaboration between the university, Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHETSCO) and Princeton University in the United States with funding from World Bank STEP-B Projects and that Abuja is now the operational centre for the research. Work had started on it at Princeton in the USA.

He said that the treatment would utilise nanoparticles, which could be injected into the body through the blood vessels to the capillaries and then attach itself to the cancer cells. It would also utilise Biological Micro-electromechanical Systems (Bio-MEMS) and used for detecting and treating cancer.

Bio-MEMS refers to a special class of Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) where biological matter is manipulated to analyse and measure its activity under any class of scientific study.

Soboyejo said the research into the nanoparticles and Bio-MEMS was being anchored by experienced PhD students of the university.

“We are beginning to plan animal experiment and we are talking to some people who are basically helping us with setting up the animal cages to do the animal experiment.We are also setting up a bio-ethics committee because you know before you can start doing animal experiment you have to follow certain ethical procedures, so, we are in the final stages of receiving approval from the Nigerian Bio-ethics Board.”

Soboyejo said that progress had been made in the bio-MEMS research ‘’as the implantable devices had the capability of soaking up drugs before they are implanted and squeezing them into cancer cells. ’’

He said that apart from squeezing out drug for chemotherapy, the devices could also be used to apply heat to the region where the cancer tumour was located.

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“And what is special about this prodigosene is that we can make it from local bacteria and we can make it in sufficient quantities for drugs. We have separated it and we have tested it and shown that it has the same effectiveness in treating cancer as “Taxol”, which is a well-established cancer drug. We have also looked at the device design and tested the device design in terms of how it can soak up the drug and release the drug.

“Lastly, we have done experiments to show the effective killing of cancer cells by the release of the drug from the device and we are now ready to do the animal experiments. So, the animal experiments have been designed, once we receive bio-ethics approval we would like to conduct the initial experiment for demonstrating the shrinkage of the tumour in the last quarter of this year.’’

Soboyejo said that beyond the use of the new drug, another PhD student was also looking at how to use a combination of heat and drug to kill cancer cells.

He said that because the laser beams had limited penetration, it could only be effective for near-surface tumours while the heat generated by oscillating magnetic fields at the nanoparticles would serve better in the treatment of bulk tumours.

He said that the university and its partners were considering the effect heat would have on cancer cells as well as how to control and regulate the heating while restricting it to only the area with cancer cells.

“What we are now trying to do is to put a control system in place with some local detector that would make sure that that heat never exceeds the level that you need for treatment. The student is now designing and making the system and the idea that we have is putting in the ability to sense and also to control the temperature to do effective heating.So once we do that we would then be able to use that heat to release the drug as well as to kill the tumour and our plan is to follow the initial experiment on drug release on animals with the experiment on drug release and heat.

“The real reason for combining the two is you may be able to reduce the total amount of drug you need to have a therapy take effect and thereby reduce the side effects of the treatment. ’’

He expressed gratitude to the World Bank Science Technology Education Post-Basic projects (STEP-B) for sponsoring the research, saying that without the funds, there would have been no advancement in the research. (NAN)

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