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New 'custom' engineered parasites seek out and destroy cancer cells

Japanese researchers have created a custom hydrogel sheath for parasitic helminths that allows them to deliver anti-cancer drugs.

Published Jul 12, 2022 7:04 AM CDT   |   Updated Wed, Aug 3 2022 1:46 PM CDT

A study on the modified worm titled "Nematode surface functionalization with hydrogel sheaths tailored in situ has been published in the journal Materials Today Bio.

New 'custom' engineered parasites seek out and destroy cancer cells 02 |

Researchers from Osaka University have found a new use for a type of nematode, which are microscopic unsegmented roundworms, particularly the Anisakis simplex species. The Japanese researchers equipped the worms with "hydrogel sheaths," allowing them to be loaded up with cargo. A. simplex is usually found in marine environments, but if ingested, they can colonize inside humans, where they have been shown to develop a taste for cancer cells.

"A. simplex has been reported to sense cancer, potentially by detecting a cancer "odor," and to attach to cancerous tissues. This led us to ask whether it could be used to deliver anti-cancer treatments directly to cancer cells within the human body," said Wildan Mubarok, first author on the study.

The researchers dipped the nematodes in various hydrogel solutions to coat them with chemicals that bind together to form the gel-like sheath all over their bodies, creating a 0.01-millimeter thick layer in about 20 minutes custom-fitted to the nematode. After testing their viability, the sheaths were loaded with anti-cancer agents, which the nematodes could transport to cancer cells in vitro, killing them.

"The results were very clear. The sheaths did not in any way interfere with the worms' survival and were flexible enough to maintain the worms' motility and natural ability to seek out attractive smells and chemical signals," said Shinji Sakai, senior author of the study.

"Our findings suggest that nematodes could potentially be used to deliver functional cargo to a range of specific targets in the future," said Mubarok.

You can read more from the study here.

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Adam grew up watching his dad play Turok 2 and Age of Empires on a PC in his computer room, and learned a love for video games through him. Adam was always working with computers, which helped build his natural affinity for working with them, leading to him building his own at 14, after taking apart and tinkering with other old computers and tech lying around. Adam has always been very interested in STEM subjects, and is always trying to learn more about the world and the way it works.

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