Scientists in Britain have invented a “sugar bomb” which destroys cancer cells in a matter of seconds, it has emerged.
Cancerous tumours need “food” to spread, so they consume the “bomb” which has a drug inside it.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh combined the tiny cancer-killing molecule SeNBD with a chemical food compound to trick malignant cells into ingesting it.
The peer-reviewed experimental study was carried out on zebrafish and human cells, but researchers say more studies are needed to confirm if it is a safe and swift method of treating early stage cancer and drug-resistant bacteria.
Healthy cells are not harmed by the drug and it only works against cancer cells because they grow fast and need more food than the healthy ones.
Scientists hope that with this discovery the new treatment will increase survival rates and also prevent patients from having to go through chemotherapy.
It’s only been tested on glioblastoma so far, which is the most common type of brain cancer.
Tests showed that the “sugar bomb” destroyed the sugar-craving cells in the tumour in mere seconds.
By coupling SeNBD with a chemical food compound it becomes the “ideal prey for harmful cells” which ingest it “without being alerted to its toxic nature”.
The drug was invented by University of Edinburgh researchers who compared it to a Trojan Horse, and its effects to a “metabolic warhead”.
SeNBD is also a light-activated photosensitiser, meaning it kills cells only after it is turned on by visible light.
It could tackle breast, prostate and lung cancers.
And Nature Communications has reported that the treatment will also be adapted for cancers that prefer consuming fat or protein.
With the treatment, a surgeon can precisely decide when they want to activate the drug, reducing the chances of it destroying healthy tissues and avoiding side-effects like hair loss caused by other anti-cancer agents, said the university.
Lead researcher Professor Marc Vendrell, chair of translational chemistry and Biomedical Imaging at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This research represents an important advance in the design of new therapies that can be simply activated by light irradiation, which is generally very safe.
“SeNBD is one of the smallest photosensitisers ever made and its use as a ‘Trojan horse’ opens many new opportunities in interventional medicine for killing harmful cells without affecting surrounding healthy tissue.”
Dr Sam Benson, a post-doctoral researcher at the university, said the mechanism of the drug’s delivery means it goes through the “front door of the cell” rather than having to “find a way to batter through the cell’s defences”.