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CU gets $2 million grant to discover and design ways of creating edible chemotherapy drugs

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Posted at 7:05 PM, Aug 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-09 21:38:48-04

DENVER – Chemotherapy by infusions is inconvenient. It requires long hospital visits, it costs a lot of money, and you end up being exposed to other sick people while you’re there. So, what if you could instead take the chemotherapy treatment from the comfort of your home? Better yet – what if you could ingest it?

That’s what researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences of CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus are researching at the moment – and they’re getting a little help in the form of a $2 million grant to do so.

Normally, you can’t eat chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer; the conditions inside of your gut make it impossible for any type of treatment to survive the digestive process and make it to the bloodstream. Researchers have found, however, that there is an exception to this rule, and it is found in milk.

When a baby is breastfed, they aren’t only ingesting food to keep them alive – they’re also taking in antibodies found in mother’s milk to help them build their immune system to fight future infections. Those antibodies, found in milk particles, are able to make it through the harsh environment of the stomach and eventually end up in the bloodstream, where they are able to do their work.

This is where Doctor Tom Anchordoquy and his team of researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences come in.

The researchers want to pair milk particles with chemotherapy drugs in order to bring the treatment to patients without the need for infusions. Some promising signs that this could work are found in tests that have been done with mice, according to a blog post from department’s website.

In recent experiments, scientists paired drugs with cow milk particles that were tainted with dye and were then fed to mice. What researchers found after mice ingested those drugs is that the dye made it to the blood stream and to other tissues of the body without them being destroyed in the digestive process.

“(The) idea is to get particles with cow’s milk and load them with drugs and swallow the drugs instead of having them infused in your arm,” Anchordoquy said in an interview with CU’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

One of the major hurdles researches are facing at the moment? How they’ll get those chemotherapy drugs into the milk particles. There are countless drugs that are used for chemotherapy treatment and pairing those different variations of drugs with cow milk particles isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, researchers said in the blog post. 

The $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health awarded to Anchordoquy and his collaborator Dr. Micahel Graner, an associate professor in the CU School of Medicine Department of Neurosurgery, will help them discover and design the best possible combinations to make the pairing possible, the blog post states.

At the moment, the team of researchers is already pairing milk from Mucca Bella Dairy, a dairy located in the town of Carr, Colorado.