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A rendition of the special lipid nanoparticle, the inside is composed of a mixture of superparamagnetic iron particles, fluorescent quandum dots and anti-cancer drugs. The lipid structure is coated with F3, a special cancer-seeking protein, to help it home in on cancer cells and deliver its payload.  (Source: Ji-Ho Park, UCSD)
Like a stealth jet, new nanoparticles evade the body's defenses while delivering chemical markers and lethal toxins to cancer tumors

Studying and developing treatments for cancer is possibly one of the most publicized fields in medical science in current times. There has been a deluge of new and promising treatments recently using nano- and macro-scale particles to, via the bloodstream, deliver anti-tumor drugs or anti-tumor weapons directly to the site of cancerous growths.

Building on past breakthroughs with these microscopic particles as drug ferries, a group of researchers from UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and MIT will shortly publish new work with a refined lipid-based transport system. While it is not the first lipid-based particle, it may be the first to be as robust as the researchers claim.

The specially engineered lipid structure, instead of simply carrying a toxin or heat bomb to cancer cells, is actually a multi-purpose unit. Coated with F3, a special cancer bloodhound protein, and filled with various imaging components (superparamagnetic iron nanoparticles for NMRIs and fluorescent “quantum dots” for fluorescence imaging) and anti-cancer drugs (doxorubicin), the tiny “motherships” were shown to evade the body's aggressive immune system for several hours while ferreting out cancer cells and delivering their payloads.

The structure is among the first to pack imaging and cancer killers in the same package.  The success surprised even the researchers.  Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD who headed the team of chemists, biologists and engineers, states, "The fact that the ships can carry very dissimilar payloads—a magnetic nanoparticle, a fluorescent quantum dot, and a small molecule drug—was a real surprise."

The research appears in the Germany-based chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.

The team is continuing to explore the possibilities of specialized coatings for the lipid transports. They are looking to develop more proteins that will seek out certain types of tumors or organs in the body and deliver their tailored cargo to those sites.

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RE: something scares me
By Gzus666 on 9/16/2008 11:16:57 AM , Rating: 2
Wouldn't a nuke be more effective? I have a feeling this is more of an example of fearing what we don't understand.

RE: something scares me
By kkwst2 on 9/16/2008 12:25:25 PM , Rating: 2
Ding ding ding.

The ultimate biological weapon is less about how it kills you (that part is easy) rather than how it is delivered (ie spread).

Most cancer drugs kill rapidly dividing cells, so a byproduct of killing the tumor is killing your immune cells. This is trying to do what many have tried to do and failed (more or less) before, which is kill cancer cells without killing normal cells. It's the holy grail of cancer theraphy, and has almost no potential to be used as a biological weapon that I know of.

RE: something scares me
By HighWing on 9/16/2008 12:56:07 PM , Rating: 3
and has almost no potential to be used as a biological weapon that I know of.

Now if this can bypass the immune system, and if it can be redesigned to attack something other then cancer cells like red blood cells.... how can you not see it's potential at creating an extremely lethal new virus?

Even if this specific type can't be programmed, it still means we have found one way to bypass the immune system while delivering a foreign substance. Which can now be used as the building blocks to develop other drugs that need to get into the body without being bothered by the immune system. And just because this particular method is allowing something good in... what is really stopping it from delivering a virus instead?

RE: something scares me
By Gzus666 on 9/16/2008 1:00:41 PM , Rating: 3
OK, once again, this would take tons of resources, why waste your time when nuclear or just regular bombs are quite a bit more accessible. Or just simple mustard gas would be cheap, easy to make, and accessible to most anyone. All of these things bypass the immune system as well.

RE: something scares me
By HighWing on 9/16/2008 1:42:47 PM , Rating: 2
Well I don't know the exact specifics on this drug. But I can say some of the big reasons would be that bombs destroy buildings and create a huge mess that at some point has to be cleaned up. If you just kill the people, or even make them extremely ill, that would allow your army to roll into a city and push over it's human defenses. Then you would easily be able to take control of the city and it's resources without having to rebuild anything.

Also, lets not forget that bombs cost a lot of money to make and deliver. I'm faily sure it would be much easier and cheaper to poison a cities water/food supply.

And Finally if this can bypass the immune system, it makes it that much harder to make an antidote or something to fight it. I could be wrong, but it is my understanding that most immunity shots still rely on your bodies immune system to deliver and produce the antidote. If a virus can bypass that.... your screwed..... AIDS comes to mind as one such virus

RE: something scares me
By foolsgambit11 on 9/16/2008 2:56:07 PM , Rating: 2
It's not hard to filter large lipid 'cages' out of a water supply. And I bet these structures are fragile enough that just letting them loose out into the world wouldn't be that effective of a delivery method. Soap and water would probably break them open.

RE: something scares me
By HighWing on 9/16/2008 1:48:16 PM , Rating: 2
One other reason just came to mind

This has the potential to open up the flood gates for many other poisons/toxins that would normally be blocked by your body's immune system. If you could lets say deliver the common cold and let it run rampant through your body without it reacting, that even has the potential to be lethal

RE: something scares me
By Gzus666 on 9/16/2008 2:19:40 PM , Rating: 2
Once again, takes a lot of money to make your own, but mustard gas is dirt cheap. Why would you chance releasing a virus that could potentially kill you as well? Also, there are neutron bombs, which kill all the living, but leave everything else in tact. Hell, if you want to poison the water supply, it can be done with any over the counter poison, antifreeze, etc. etc., why would anyone spend all this money, time and research to do something that could be done much easier another way? Also, to my knowledge, poisons don't interact with the immune system in any way as it is.

RE: something scares me
By foolsgambit11 on 9/16/2008 2:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
You don't understand the immune system much, do you?

Let's say you successfully deliver a few cold viruses (virii?) into a person. Let's say this delivery vehicle manages to get the virus into your cells. Then those cold viruses would take over the cell and multiply. When they burst out, they would be regular cold viruses . They would be spotted by your immune system.

It is possible maybe that you could completely overwhelm somebody if you could get enough cold virii into them at once, such that the ensuing wave was too much for the immune system.

But mostly, you'd have to create a self-replicating virus that created the 'mothership' portion of the delivery vehicle itself for each successive generation.

Why not stick to infecting people with a terrible strain of HIV? It already does a pretty good job of tricking the immune system and shutting it down. If you're going to engineer a virus, I'd start with one that already does what you want, and try to speed up it's time line to make an effective weapon.

Of course, the problem with any self-replicating virus that evades the immune system is that it would then affect your own troops. So really, this doesn't seem like a good technique for combat operations.

Of course, you could put toxins into this lipid cage, but the immune system doesn't deal with toxins much anyway. Just use ricin. Way easier to make and wicked effective.

RE: something scares me
By Amiga500 on 9/16/2008 5:38:48 PM , Rating: 2
But mostly, you'd have to create a self-replicating virus that created the 'mothership' portion of the delivery vehicle itself for each successive generation.

Yeap, that would be the key thing that would need to be achieved. Self-replicating nanobots.

But, then your into the area of the extremely dangerous 'gloop' that would destroy the planet theories.

RE: something scares me
By tastyratz on 9/16/2008 3:35:31 PM , Rating: 2
This has HUGE potential for good things with cancer, etc... but it has definitely got huge potential for bad things as well. Brand new biological research and expensive to make... but only for so long.
Wait a few years and some terrorist cell will be making these with an inkjet printer. or something along the lines.
Don't get me wrong this is an excellent advancement and I am excited to see what develops from this.
The sad truth is that as humans this wont just be used for good. From Nuclear research we have developed an excellent clean source of power helping the environment as well as a terrible instrument of death. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

RE: something scares me
By PhoenixKnight on 9/16/2008 7:18:23 PM , Rating: 2
Once you really think about it, there really isn't very much potential to use this as a weapon. Doing so would be ridiculously impractical. Consider poisons such as ricin, which is cheap, easy to make (you could probably figure out how to make it online easily enough), is unaffected by the immune system, kills very swiftly in small doses, and is much easier to deliver to victims.

The only potential 'evil' use of this is to sectretly assassinate people, but even then there are plenty of cheaper, more common, easier to make, and more untraceable, poisons that can be used.

I suppose I suppose this could be used by a serial killer who, for some unknown reason, might want to deliver specific poisons to a specific part of victims' bodies. But then, how would that be any really worse than a psycho with a knife?

RE: something scares me
By eggman on 9/16/2008 3:42:19 PM , Rating: 2
If someone designs a virus to infect red blood cells it would have to be delivered to the red blood cells before it causes any damage. As soon as it infects the cells the body reacts. Until it attacks, no damage. What is the difference between having the mother ship harbor it for a few hours if it is not doing anything, and having it directly injected into the bloodstream, just the time of infection.

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