Sperm that’s been loaded with chemotherapy drugs could be used to fight cancer in women.
The guided missile technique involves using drug-treated sperm to deliver the medicines to tumors deep inside the body.
The revolutionary treatment could help thousands of women affected by cancers of the reproductive system, which can be reached by the drug- carrying sperm. Cancer of the womb kills more than 2,000 women a year in the UK and cervical cancer claims the lives of around 900.
Treatment includes chemotherapy to try to poison the cancer cells before they spread.
But this also damages healthy cells. For years, scientists have been exploring ways to deliver toxic anti-cancer medicines directly to tumor sites, leaving healthy tissues unscathed.
One method used bacteria as a form of transport, as they can penetrate the body easily.
But though the technique was relatively effective at getting chemotherapy drugs deep inside the body, the immune system often destroyed the bacteria (which it saw as an invader) before they reached their destination.
Using sperm gets round this problem because, even though it is ‘foreign’, it does not get attacked by a woman’s immune system.
This is thought to be because, on its surface, sperm carries certain sugar molecules — glycoproteins — which are recognized by all human immune systems, allowing them safe passage through the female body.
Scientists at the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences in Dresden, Germany, chose to experiment with sperm because of its ability to propel itself through the reproductive tract.
Sperm move forwards by thrashing their long tail — or flagellum — to reach the fallopian tubes and try to fertilize an egg.
Researchers wondered if this could be utilized to steer drug-carrying sperm to hard-to-reach tumors in women’s reproductive tracts. They’re perfecting the technique to ensure they can target tumors accurately so that pregnancy won’t happen.
In a recent study, scientists began by soaking individual sperm in a chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin for several hours. Doxorubicin is a commonly used drug that treats many cancers and works by blocking an enzyme, called topoisomerase 2, which cancer cells need to grow.
Next they covered each sperm in a miniature metal harness, no bigger than a pinhead, which was coated with an iron solution.