Lethal nano-sized ‘torpedos,’ deftly evading the body’s defence network, will discharge anti-cancer drugs into the heart of tumours and destroy them ruthlessly. “Many drugs look promising but fail in humans because they do not reach the diseased tissue in time or at concentrations high enough to be effective,” said Indian-American Sangeeta Bhatia, physician, bioengineer and MIT professor, who played a key role in its development. University of California (UC) scientists and Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT), who jointly developed the nano cargo-ship system, said it integrates therapeutic and diagnostic functions into a single device that avoids rapid expulsion by the body’s immune system. “The idea involves encapsulating imaging agents and drugs into a protective ‘mother ship’ that evades the natural processes which normally expels these payloads if they were unprotected,” said Michael Sailor, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC, San Diego. Sailor headed the team of chemists, biologists and engineers that turned the fanciful concept into reality. “These mother ships are… 1,000 times smaller than… a human hair, and are equipped with an array of molecules… that enable them to find and penetrate tumour cells.” The ‘torpedo’s’ hull was made out of specially modified lipids a primary component of cell surface. The lipids were modified to enable them to circulate in the bloodstream for hours before being eliminated, first demonstrated in trials with mice, said a Eurekalert report by Kim McDonald. The researchers also designed the hull material to be strong enough to prevent accidental release of its cargo while circulating through the bloodstream. Tethered to the hull surface is protein F3 that sticks to cancer cells. Prepared in cell biologist Erkki Ruoslahti’s lab, professor at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, UC, Santa Barbara, F3 was programmed to penetrate tumour cell surfaces. “We are now constructing the next generation of smart tumour-targeting nanodevices,” said Ruoslahti. “We hope that these devices will improve the diagnostic imaging of cancer and allow pinpoint targeting of treatments into cancerous tumours.” These findings will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Germany-based chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.