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Cancer Drug Delivery Through Milk Particles Under Study

Cattle

(Stefanie Drenkow-Lolies, Pixabay)

9 August 2018. A new research project is investigating components in raw cow’s milk that could make it possible to give chemotherapy for cancer as oral drugs rather than infusions. The work at University of Colorado’s medical campus in Denver is funded by a 4-year grant awarded this month by National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of National Institutes of Health, with nearly $500,000 allocated for the first year.

The team led by pharmacy professor Tom Anchordoquy and cancer neuroscientist Michael Graner are seeking better methods for delivering cancer drugs that today require intravenous infusions and trained medical staff to administer. Many drugs like chemotherapies need to use infusions to bypass harsh acids and enzymes in the stomach that would degrade and interfere with the drugs if taken as pills or capsules.

One exception, however, is mother’s milk, which when ingested is able to transfer antibodies through the baby’s digestive tract. Mother’s milk protects against degradation by stomach acids by encasing antibodies in particles called exosomes, allowing antibodies to remain intact and be absorbed through the gut into the blood stream. Previous studies show that milk, including cow’s milk, contains ribonucleic acid or RNA encased in exosomes that can alter the expression of genes in humans.

Exosomes are tiny — 40 to 150 nanometer — lipid-membrane containers in cells that gather up and secrete cytoplasm, the gel-like material outside the cell nucleus. While originally believed to carry out waste removal and other maintenance tasks, exosomes are shown in recent years to perform useful delivery functions carrying proteins and genetic material to other cells, and drawing increased attention from a range of biological disciplines.

Anchordoquy explains in a university statement that cells lining the intestines have neonatal Fc receptors that recognize immunoglobulin G, or igG antibodies, the most common antibody in blood. The receptors bind to and protect the antibodies while transporting them into the blood stream, along with the exosome. Despite their name, neonatal Fc receptors remain in the human gut throughout one’s lifetime.

The Colorado team wants to extend this mechanism using milk exosomes to deliver cancer drugs. The researchers believe raw cows milk can work as effectively as mother’s milk. “Cows and humans are similar enough,” says Anchordoquy, “that cow proteins bind to the human receptors and are transported by the same mechanism. When you drink milk, cow exosomes bind to these receptors and it moves cow molecules into your blood.”

The new study aims to examine this process further with the goal of demonstrating in lab tests delivery of cancer-fighting molecules. The researchers propose testing oral delivery of iRGD peptides, known to target and penetrate tumors, encased in raw milk exosomes, and even recruited a local organic dairy farm for the project.

Instead of going to a hospital or clinic for chemotherapy, notes Anchordoquy, “we have the prospect of stuffing cow’s milk with chemotherapeutics. And who wouldn’t love to just drink a glass of milk or eat an ice cream cone instead of being infused?” Anchordoquy — with lab colleagues, dairy farmer, and cancer patient — tell more about the project in the following video.

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