A treatment against cancer thanks to camels
At Israel’s Ben Gurion University, Professor Niv Papo has discovered that tiny antibodies called nanobodies, found only in camels and sharks, can penetrate hard cancerous tissue to deliver chemotherapy treatments. BGU has purchased a camel and has now begun trials on prostate cancer.
Professor Niv Papo has discovered that particular antibodies produced by camels and sharks could be a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer, the Twelfth Channel reported Wednesday.
Professor Niv Papo of the National Institute of Biotechnology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev came up with the idea last year because he sees camels every day on his way to work in his lab in Beer Sheva.
Chemotherapy treatment is effective in fighting cancers such as prostate cancer, but at the same time it also destroys healthy cells and irreversibly damages body tissues. When injected into the bloodstream, chemotherapy treatment kills cancer cells, but also causes high toxicity and creates resistance to the treatment over time.
The only antibodies that can penetrate cancer cells are tiny antibodies called nanobodies. They are only about 10% the size of ordinary antibodies and can penetrate hard cancer tissue, release the chemotherapeutic drug, and then quickly eliminate it from the body.
We know that the only animals known to produce tiny nanobodies of this type are camels and sharks. Given the large local inventory of camels in the Negev desert near Professor Papo’s workplace, camels were an obvious choice.
Professor Papo’s trials focus on injecting chemotherapy into the body while ensuring that it only works effectively against cancer cells and not against healthy cells and tissues.
A recent study he conducted with PhD student Lior Rosenfeld showed that by using camels, they could create tiny prostate cancer antibodies that bind strongly only to cancer cells, inject chemotherapy drugs directly into them, and eliminate those cells in a selective and controlled manner.
Professor Papo bought a camel and housed it on a farm near the university, which allowed the camel to produce the tiny antibodies, much like a vaccinated or attenuated virus injected into the human body to make antibodies, but without infecting the virus itself.
The antibodies were collected on the camel, suitable for eliminating cells infected with prostate cancer. Further testing of the antibodies identified the most effective ones in treating the cancer cells.
The study showed that the antibodies produced by the camel penetrated the cancer cells and released the chemotherapy drugs in a controlled manner, leading to the selective elimination of the cancer cells – without any damage to the healthy cells. The results were recently published in the prestigious Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
The discovery could lead to a new type of targeted chemotherapy for cancer cells that will minimize damage to healthy tissue, which will hopefully also mean a reduction in the severe side effects of chemotherapy.
The study focused on prostate cancer, but Professor Papo is also leading another study focusing on breast cancer. The Biotechnology Institute is in the advanced stages of signing a commercial agreement with a U.S. pharmaceutical company to develop drugs using this technique.