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Ayurveda meets nanotechnology in potential cancer drug

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

08-03-11

Aug. 02--Through an unusual welding of Ayurveda and nanotechnology, two India-born scientists have developed a medicine that promises to cure prostate cancer, which will now be tested by a local company.

Chennai-based drug manufacturer Shasun Pharmaceuticals Ltd has said it will produce, conduct clinical trials and bring to market the medicine made of gold nanoparticles in a chemical soup partly prepared from herbs such as tea leaves and cinnamon, all used in several Ayurvedic concoctions.

"Patients will only need a single shot of the medicine that can take care of the cancer," claimed Abhaya Kumar, managing director, Shasun Pharma. "It will be a fundamental shift in cancer therapy with no side effects, radiation and chemotherapy."

Shasun has licensed the technology from Nanoparticle Biochem Inc., a spin-off company from the University of Missouri, Columbia, whose researchers Raghuram Kannan and Kattesh Katti are among the developers of the technology.

The working of the discovered drug seems simple. The gold nanoparticles--beads crushed to about one thousandth of the width of human hair--are injected into the body where they bind to the surface of cancer cells. Being metal and mildly radioactive, they slowly burn the offending cells to extinction.

Kumar said both Shasun and Nanoparticle Biochem will invest $5 million ('22 crore) each to develop the drug, and by October will ask the Drug Controller General of India's permission to conduct clinical trials.

Prostate cancer affects 4.6 out of every 100,000 Indians, compared with 104.3 per 100,000 in the US, according to the World Health Organization. In India, 85% men seek treatment when the cancer is in an advanced stage, compared with 15% in the US.

Girish Sahni, director at Chandigarh-based Institute of Microbial Technology, who has previously collaborated with Shasun, said the use of gold nanoparticles for drug development was promising. "It's a new approach," he said, "but we'll have to wait and see if such applications survive clinical trials."

Though producing gold nanoparticles typically requires use of toxic chemicals such as sodium borohydride or hydrogen, the new method entails submerging gold salts in water and later made to react with cinnamon aldehyde, which generate the nanoparticles, according to researcher Katti.

"In fact, if you don't have cinnamon aldehyde, you can use cinnamon sticks," said fellow scientist Kannan, adding that even tea leaves and soya bean can be used to prepare such nanoparticles.

The water pulls out phytochemicals--therapeutic compounds present in plants--out of the herbs, which then react with gold salts to form nanoparticles, as well as provide an extra layer of coating that helps the particles to bind to cell surfaces.

"Because we can do this without toxic chemicals, it's a totally green process," Katti said.

Gold is the metal of choice for such therapy because it doesn't react with surrounding healthy cells, emits radiation within human tolerance limits, and can be moulded into a variety of shapes for use in drug delivery systems. While several approaches to employ gold nanoparticles for medicinal purposes are being tested out, there's no commercially available drug that employs nanoparticles.

"We only need a gram of gold for 1,000 patients and that will be cheaper than current prostate cancer therapies such as surgery and chemotherapy," said Shasun's Kumar.

Preliminary tests on mice, artificially induced with prostate tumours, have showed that 30 days after being injected with the medicine, the tumours hadn't grown and were a quarter of the size of tumours of afflicted rats not administered the medicine.

Katti's group last year reported preparing gold nanoparticles with soya bean and published their work in the peer-reviewed Pharmaceutical Research journal.

"The application of soy for the production of gold nanoparticles is amazing," Puspendu Das, physical chemistry professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said in a statement. "This invention will have far-reaching implications in nanoscience and technology research globally since nanoparticles of gold are used in almost every sensor design and are implicated in lifesciences for diagnostic and therapeutic applications."

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