My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How the University of South Australia and Dresden use Transgenic Diatom Algae to kill Cancer

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How the University of South Australia and Dresden use Transgenic Diatom Algae to kill Cancer

“By genetically engineering diatom Algae - tiny, unicellular, photosynthesising Algae with a skeleton made of nanoporous silica, we are able to produce an antibody-binding protein on the surface of their shells”

Dr Nico Voelcker from the University of South Australia, commenting on the use of diatom Algae to kill cancer

A cure to cancer may come in the form of Algae Neutraceutical.

Researchers from the University of South Australia and Dresden, Germany have developed a transgenic Diatom Algae that can kill cancer cells as reported in the article “Genetically altered Algae mug cancer cells, leave innocent cells alone”, published November 12, 2015 by Jenn Savedge, MNN.


This as the body usually has a negative reaction to the chemotherapeutic drugs, often causing damage to healthy tissue. However, by placing the molecules of the toxic chemotherapeutic drugs inside of the genetically modified Diatom Algae, they basically develop an organic drug delivery system that did not harm healthy cells.

More interestingly, tests done on mice and in-vitro human cells have demonstrated 90% killing power using these transgenic Diatom Algae as a drug delivery mechanism.
So how did the researchers achieve this incredible feat?

University of South Australia and Dresden use transgenic Diatom Algae to kill Cancer - Guided Missiles for chemotherapeutic drugs

The researchers had genetically modified Diatom Algae with antibody-binding protein on the surface of their silica shells as noted in the article “Genetically engineered Algae kills 90% of cancer cells without harming healthy ones”, published November 10, 2015 by Hannah Osborne, International Business Times

Their transgenic Algae was developed using Diatom Algae which measures four to six micrometres in diameter. It has with a porous skeleton made of silica and only needs water and light to grow.

The researchers realized that the Diatom Algae, with its pill-like shape, was the perfect vehicle to carry chemotherapeutic drugs. Best of all, because it already naturally occurring and its genome is well known, it’s easy to generically modify to attack other specific types of cancerous growths in the human body.

This is somewhat similar to the idea of using melittin to kill the HIV (Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus), the causative agent behind AIDS (Acquired Immuno-deficiency Syndrome) as explained in my blog article entitled “How Washington University School of Medicine Researchers use Liposomes and Melittin to kill HIV” .

Thus it made sense to the researchers to re-engineer the Diatom Algae as a drug delivery mule...er. ...I mean nanoparticle drug delivery system, as it was cost-effective to quote Dr. Nico Voelcker from the University of South Australia, one of the authors of the study: “Although it is still early days, this novel drug delivery system based on a biotechnologically tailored, renewable material holds a lot of potential for the therapy of solid tumours including currently untreatable brain tumours”.

This means that the Diatom Algae with the antibody-binding protein would only bind to the cancer cells that had the same antibody protein, thereby delivering the chemotherapeutic drugs to the cancerous cells only and leaving the healthy cells alone.

In Engineering terms, this is basically the equivalent of firing guided missile at the cancer cells but using conventional warheads to deliver the killing effect as explained by Dr Nico Voelcker from the University of South Australia, quote:  “Anti-cancer chemotherapeutic drugs are often toxic to normal tissues. To minimize the off-target toxicity, the drugs can be hidden inside the antibody-coated nanoparticles. The antibody binds only to molecules found on cancer cells, thus delivering the toxic drug specifically to the target cells”.

Quite a mouthful which translates to mean that a cure for cancer may be just around the corner along with  source of food to feed starving millions in the future. All thanks to transgenic Diatom Algae!



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