Inhalable drug delivery provides new approach to lung cancer treatment


May 23, 2013

The Nanostructured Lipid Carrier (NLC) that can be inhaled to deliver an anticancer drug directly to the lungs (Image: Oregon State University)

The Nanostructured Lipid Carrier (NLC) that can be inhaled to deliver an anticancer drug directly to the lungs (Image: Oregon State University)

According to American Cancer Society estimates, lung cancer will account for 27 percent of all US cancer deaths in 2013, making it by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Part of the problem is getting the toxic chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat the cancer into the lungs. A new drug delivery system aims to overcome this problem by allowing the drugs to be inhaled, thereby delivering the drug where it is needed while reducing the harmful effects to other organs.

The new treatment developed by researchers from Oregon State University (OSU), Rutgers University and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey uses nanoparticles as a drug carrier to transport the anticancer drugs directly into the lungs. These “nanostructured lipid nanocarriers” readily attach to cancer cells and are smaller than a speck of dust so can be easily inhaled.

As well as a payload of chemotherapeutic drugs, the nanoparticles also carry small interfering RNA (siRNA). This is a molecule that helps control and repress certain genes and makes the cancer cells more vulnerable by helping to eliminate both “pump” resistance, where the drugs are expelled from the cancer cell interior, and “non-pump” resistance, which keeps the cancer cell from dying.

“Lung cancer damage is usually not localized, which makes chemotherapy an important part of treatment,” said Oleh Taratula, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy and co-author on the study. “However, the drugs used are toxic and can cause organ damage and severe side effects if given conventionally through intravenous administration.

Inhalation of the chemotherapeutic agents also ensures they arrive in more intact form than conventional intravenous delivery, in which the drugs tend to accumulate in the liver, kidney and spleen before they can make it to the site of the cancer. In the researcher’s study, the amount on the drug delivered to the lungs increased from 23 percent with injection, to 83 percent using the inhalation approach.

“A drug delivery system that can be inhaled is a much more efficient approach, targeting just the cancer cells as much as possible,” said Taratula. “Other chemotherapeutic approaches only tend to suppress tumors, but this system appears to eliminate it.” The researchers have applied for a patent for the inhalation technology, but say more testing will be required before moving onto human clinical trials.

The study appears in the Journal of Controlled Release and can be downloaded from OSU.

Source: Oregon State University

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I wonder how many folks will die unnecessarily in the ten or so years it will take for our government to allow us save our lives.


The future of Vaping is among us.


Don, you are so correct! We should be allowed to "volunteer" for any human testing, right away, so as to expedite the governments approval. There are thousands who would volunteer, as they have nothing to lose, but they surely lose by waiting years....


my dad could have used this, died from lung cancer ( I believe 2nd hand smoke), non smoker IE was around smokers Heavy IE 60s-80s era. Darn. Was on chemo until death.

Stephen Russell

@ Stephen, sorry to hear of your grief. Cancer took my mother also. It really has no friends at all. I also agree strongly with Don and Observer's comments. In the end, my mother tried a new test chemo. It was her contribution to cancer research in the hope for a future cure. There are so many people that would contribute if given the opportunity. Hope, no matter how small, is a powerful motivator!


Indeed, giving patients access to trials and related information could greatly improve the science behind new treatments. Right now, new treatments and drugs suffer from confirmation bias, where the one study that had 12 participants which proved a successful treatment is published, but the 20 with hundreds of participants which show no effectiveness at all are turned down.

Joel Detrow
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