Pink blobs of hope in cancer-targeting quest

Award-winning photo highlights challenges of delivering drugs directly to affected organs

A micrograph of a mouse's lungs

ALMOST DOESN’T COUNT  The pink blobs in this micrograph are plastic capsules, each filled with cancer-fighting medicine, inside a mouse’s lung. Ideally, the capsules would have reached the bottom of the lungs.

G. Szeto, Adelaide Tovar, Jeff Wyckoff/MIT, Wellcome Images (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

An award-winning image illustrates the promise and challenge of delivering drugs to tumors inside the body. The pink blotches in this micrograph are fluorescent dye attached to biodegradable polymer microcapsules. The capsules gathered in a mouse’s lungs over the course of about a week. The polymer gradually erodes like the candy shell on a Tootsie Pop, releasing the cancer-fighting drug inside. The photo was honored by the 2015 Wellcome Image Awards, an annual contest for scientific and medical images.

MIT immune engineer Gregory Szeto and his team used a catheter to insert drug-filled, dye-carrying capsules into the mouse’s trachea and observed how far the treatment infiltrated the rodent’s lungs. The image reveals that the medicine didn’t make it to the lungs’ lower parts. Scientists face the challenge of designing capsules that last long enough to release the drugs they carry only once they have reached desired areas of the body. Szeto focuses on the lungs because many cancers, including breast and kidney, spread through the respiratory organ. He hopes that one day patients will breathe in similar cancer-fighting microcapsules with an inhaler.

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