Israeli researchers find way to hit only diseased cells among healthy ones

In a few years, many types of cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases and the coronavirus could all be treated without today’s common side effects.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Tel Aviv University (TAU) team has created a revolutionary method to deliver drugs to diseased cells while leaving the healthy ones alone.

“Today we flood the body with antibodies that, although they are selective, also damage healthy cells,” said Prof. Dan Peer, the vice president for research and development in TAU who headed the research lab. “We’ve now taken uninflamed cells out of the picture, and with a simple injection, hit only the cells that are inflamed at that moment.”

The injection contains RNA-based drug-carriers, which strike the minority of cells in the immune system that have gone awry and spread diseases including certain blood and solid cancers, inflammatory ailments like Crohn’s and serious viral illnesses, such as COVID-19.

In a short video released by TAU, a member of Dr. Peer’s team explained what the researchers have achieved.

“We generated a protein that can target the specific conformation of other proteins on sick cells. Therefore, they can only target sick cells, leaving all the other cells untouched,” said Dr. Niels Dammes, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab.

“The beauty of this protein is that it can also be attached to lipid nano-particles, and these…particles carried actual medicine” to the diseased cells alone, he said.

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Peer is a world pioneer in this new method of delivering medication to specific cells in the body, which has already received clinical approval. Their current breakthrough manages to make the transport system even more selective.

“The implications are huge. It can be used for any immune-related diseases,” he said.

In the current study, which has been published in the prestigious Nature Nanotechnology journal, the researchers showed how they succeeded in “silencing” the inflammatory genes specifically in animal models of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis. This resulted in improvement of all inflammatory symptoms in some 85% of the targeted immune cells, said Peer.

Not only did it equal or surpass current medications, but there were no side effects that occur when a drug is indiscriminately introduced into the body.

Human studies are the next step for Dr. Peer and his team, with an actual medication-delivery system still a few years away.