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Top Story

Sensor could help doctors select effective cancer therapy

National Science Foundation-funded chemical engineers have developed a new sensor that lets them see inside cancer cells and determine whether the cells are responding to a particular type of chemotherapy drug. The sensors, which detect hydrogen peroxide inside human cells, could help researchers identify new cancer drugs that boost levels of hydrogen peroxide, which induces programmed cell death. The sensors could also be adapted to screen individual patients' tumors to predict whether such drugs would be effective against them. Cancer cells often have mutations that cause their metabolism to go awry and produce abnormally high fluxes of hydrogen peroxide. When too much of the molecule is produced, it can damage cells, so cancer cells become highly dependent on antioxidant systems that remove hydrogen peroxide from cells. Drugs that target this vulnerability, which are known as "redox drugs," can work by either disabling the antioxidant systems or further boosting production of hydrogen peroxide. Many such drugs have entered clinical trials, with mixed results. One of the problems is that the clinical trials usually find that they work for some patients and they don't work for other patients. Researchers are working to create tools to be able to do more well-designed trials where we figure out which patients are going to respond to this approach and which aren't, so more of these drugs can be approved. To help move toward that goal, the research team set out to design a sensor that could sensitively detect hydrogen peroxide inside human cells, allowing scientists to measure a cell's response to such drugs.

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