A research team in Singapore has devised an experimental treatment approach for cancer without the use of drugs, according to a paper published in the scientific, peer-reviewed journal ‘Small’.

The treatment is still only in the experimental stage and has not been approved for human use. It has been tested on mice where it killed about 80 per cent of breast, skin, and gastric cancer cells.

The treatment uses of a ‘trojan-horse’ nanoparticle coated with a specific amino-acid – L-phenylalanine – that cancer cells rely on to replicate.

When it finds its way into the cancer cells, the nanoparticle, “Nano-pPAAM”, stimulates excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) production – a type of reactive molecule in the body – causing cancer cells to self-destruct while remaining harmless to the healthy cells, a press statement from the Singapore University, announcing the results of the study, said.

“Against conventional wisdom, our approach involved using the nanomaterial as a drug instead of as a drug-carrier,” lead author of the study, Dalton Tay, said.

“Here, the cancer-selective and killing properties of Nano-pPAAM are intrinsic and do not need to be ‘activated’ by any external stimuli. The amino acid L-phenylalanine acts as a ‘trojan horse’ – a cloak to mask the nanotherapeutic on the inside.”

“By removing the drug component, we have effectively simplified the nanomedicine formulation and may overcome the numerous technological hurdles that are hindering the bench-to-bedside translation of drug-based nanomedicine.”

The scientists are now working to “further refine the design and chemistry of the Nano-pPAAM to make it more precise in targeting specific cancer types and achieve higher therapeutic efficacy,” the University statement said.