The Red Blood Cell: Chemo’s New Side Kick
Did you know the side effects of chemotherapy drugs not only include hair loss, nausea, and hematological changes, but can actually be life threatening? Now, thanks to a Global Challenge finalist, many of these side effects can be avoided by delivering these medicines directly to the more robust red blood cells.
For many of the 60 million people suffering from cancer worldwide, chemotherapy is an inevitable part of the treatment process. However, chemotherapeutic drugs, which have to be administered in large doses to achieve the desired effect, have numerous negative side effects, including hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and hematological changes. Some side effects can even be life threatening.
To address this issue, InErPharm, a Russian start-up honored as a 2012 Global Challenge finalist, has developed CytoDel, a device that delivers the highly toxic chemical compounds in chemotherapeutic drugs directly into red blood cells to reduce side effects. Red blood cells are unique in that they do not contain the DNA molecule, the molecule with which most chemo drugs react; thus, medications that are harmful to other cells are not harmful to them.
CytoDel removes a patient’s venous blood, separates red blood cells from plasma, and delivers medication directly into the red blood cells. The medicated cells are then transferred back into the blood stream where they gradually release the drugs. The patient is thus spared the jolt of a sudden, high dose of toxic medicine, which can damage blood vessels and heart tissue. The number of necessary injections is also reduced. As a result, chemotherapy with Cytodel has a lower cardiotoxicity than the widely used chemotherapeutic procedure of intravenous injection. Additionally, when enzyme complexes are delivered into red blood cells, these cells act as bioreactors that remove toxic substances from the bloodstream.
What’s more, the device can be used to deliver a wide variety of other drugs, so potential uses are virtually limitless.
Intel® Global Challenge at UC Berkeley
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