Improving the efficacy of cancer treatments while reducing their toxicity

Diogo Magalhães e Silva


    Diogo Magalhães e Silva


    Faculdade de Farmácia da Universidade de Lisboa (FFUL), Portugal


    Cancer continues to be among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2020 alone, there were 19.3 million new cases and nearly 10 million cancer-related deaths. Although several highly effective new cancer treatment technologies and drugs have been developed in recent years, these fail to selectively target cancer cells.

    For this reason, patients are affected by countless side effects, including loss of hair and teeth, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, immunosuppression and even the possible need to halt treatment due to these same side effects, severely compromising the patient's survival prospects.

    With a view to overcoming this difficulty by finding molecules with highly selective anti-cancer potential that target only tumours, the researchers focused on an intrinsic characteristic of cancer to develop a drug delivery system that is selectively activated inside tumours. Specifically, they exploited the uniqueness of iron metabolism, which, when altered, is considered a cancer marker. It is present in many cancers, such as lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and colorectal, which together account for more than 50 % of cancer mortality.

    In this project, the researchers aim to validate a new therapy targeting iron metabolism to reduce the side effects of the treatment for colorectal cancer. If successful, this will open the door to new chemotherapy delivery systems that target a metabolic signature of tumour cells. This could reduce non-specific toxicity in healthy tissues and increase the life expectancy of cancer patients, as well as improving their quality of life.