Strong and light, spider silk is one of the most impressive materials in the natural world. Both the real thing and synthetic versions have been used to improve everything from clothing to car seats, cooling electronics to preserving produce, making sweet music or helping people hear it, and even patching up severed nerves. Now, scientists in Germany and Switzerland have found a new use for spider silk – wrapping up cancer drugs to protect them until they can reach their tumorous targets.
One of the most promising paths to combat cancer is immunotherapy, where drugs train the body’s immune system to hunt down and kill the cancer cells. To do so, certain peptides need to be delivered to the lymph nodes, where they can stimulate the T lymphocytes (or T-cells) into action. The problem is, these peptides are too fragile if injected alone, degrading long before they’ll reach the goal.
“To develop immunotherapeutic drugs effective against cancer, it is essential to generate a significant response of T lymphocytes,” says Carole Bourquin, director of the new study. “As the current vaccines have only limited action on T-cells, it is crucial to develop other vaccination procedures to overcome this issue.”