Genetically Engineered Cancer-Fighting Algae

Genetically Engineered Cancer-Fighting Algae

For the past week, a new cancer treatment
method has been making headlines, with titles like “Genetically engineered algae kills
90% of cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone.” Which … kind of makes it sound like we’ve
suddenly cured cancer. And a team of researchers has engineered a
new type of algae that helps fight cancer. But this algae isn’t what’s actually killing
the cancer — instead, it’s being used as a delivery mechanism for the chemotherapy
drugs we already have. It’s pretty exciting — but not because
of the ‘kills 90% of cancer cells’ part. The chemotherapy drugs already did that, for
the type of cancer the researchers were studying. But the ‘leaves healthy cells alone’ part?
That is a big, big deal. To understand how this algae could potentially
change the lives of cancer patients, we first have to talk about what cancer is, and how
chemotherapy drugs try to fight it. Nearly all of the cells in your body divide
— and they’re supposed to. They mature, reproduce, die, and are replaced by a younger
generation of cells. Some cells, like the cells that make up the
tissue inside your mouth, get replaced almost every week. Those cells are constantly awash
in digestive enzymes, along with whatever weird stuff you’re eating, so they endure
a lot of wear and tear, and they need to be replaced frequently. Other cells live for years — like your fat
cells, which don’t have to do a whole lot except sit there. Each type of cell is supposed to follow its
particular internal clock, which is encoded in its DNA. But in cancer cells, that clock is broken.
That part of its DNA has been damaged, and instead of waiting a week, a few months, or
several years to reproduce, it does it NOW. It just keeps dividing, out of control, spreading
into and destroying any nearby tissue. So the goal of chemotherapy drugs is to interrupt
the process of cell division — since cancerous cells are dividing all the time, they’re
mostly the ones that get hit. Chemotherapy usually involves taking a lot
of different kinds of these drugs, to block ANY attempts those cancerous might make to
divide. And often it does work. But it comes with a lot of side effects, because
it doesn’t just block cancer cells from dividing — it blocks ALL of your cells from
dividing. Meaning that as non-cancerous cells naturally
age and die, new cells aren’t available to take their place. Many of the awful side-effects of chemotherapy
are a result of this breakdown in cell division. Weakness and fatigue come from a breakdown
in the production of new red blood cells, which have a renewal rate of about four months. Nausea and painful or difficult stools come
from a breakdown in cell division in your stomach lining and intestines, where cells
are typically replaced every week. And people going through chemotherapy have
compromised immune systems because the white blood cells that are so important for fighting
infections are meant to be produced as often as every three days. If you’ve ever known anybody going through
chemotherapy, or have gone through it yourself, you know it’s a really hard process. And that is where this new algae treatment
comes in. Instead of injecting the chemotherapy drugs
into a patient’s bloodstream so they circulate EVERYWHERE, the drugs are attached to the
algae, which has been genetically engineered to only bond with cancer cells. In a study published last week in the journal
Nature Communications, this was tested by a group of biologists and chemists who engineered
the algae to be covered in the antibodies for that patient’s particular cancer cells. You can think of all the cells in your body
as being covered in locks, called receptors, and the antibodies are like the keys. So the algae cells, which are only 20 nanometers
across — about 5000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — bounce around between
your cells harmlessly, until they bump into a cancer cell, where they lock on. The chemotherapy drugs can then pass through
the membrane of the cancer cell where the algae is bonded to it. The drugs do their
work on the cancer, without ever coming into contact with the healthy cells in your body. And it’s not like this is some newly discovered
exotic algae uncovered from under a melting ice cap or something. If you’ve ever had
a fish tank, you’ve probably seen this stuff before. You know that brown crusty stuff that forms
on everything if the fish tank isn’t kept clean? That brown crusty stuff is called biomineralized
silica, and it’s what makes diatoms – this abundant, single-celled algae – such an incredible
vehicle for medicine. Diatoms take silicon and use it to form a
natural porous shell around themselves. And those little balls of biosilica can carry
the chemotherapy drugs straight to their target. When they were testing the delivery system,
the researchers induced tumors in mice, then injected them with this engineered biosilica. Just five days after treatment, the tumors
had shrunk by half. The team then injected the biosilica into healthy mice, and examined
them for any signs of tissue damage. And…they didn’t find any. This isn’t a totally new idea — tiny particles
of porous silica are already being used as an experimental delivery system for drugs.
But until now, those particles could only be manufactured artificially, and it was a
slow, expensive process that involved a lot of really toxic chemicals. But this algae, it just…grows. Which means, pending more testing, that this
could be a new way to administer chemotherapy that’s affordable, safe, and doesn’t come
with as many side-effects. And THAT is exciting news. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
News, and thanks especially to all of our patrons on Patreon who make this show possible.
If you want to help us keep making videos like this, just go to­.
And don’t forget to go to and subscribe!

100 thoughts on “Genetically Engineered Cancer-Fighting Algae

  1. Off topic a bit, but I was wondering if SciShow could do or have done an episode on CRISPR? It seems to be a fantastic concept, that I do not understand fully.

  2. How do they distinguish the receptors of cancer cells from healthy cells? Why would there even be a difference between the two?

  3. Wow this is just like the world in hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, we're beds grow naturally. People just come by harvest them and kill them to be used as beds.

  4. Creepy…

    If they can engineer cancer to save lives, there's someone whose engineering cancer to destroy lives, garaunteed.

  5. yeah but we know that there are many types of cancer with various forms. This new material should have it's own special receptors. And all the kinds of cancers have their own receptors too. Different from one an other… So how does this work for "cancer treatment" generally?

  6. Yay for science and all, but you know, instead of torturing innocent little animals, the scientists could have very easily used human tissue cells (cancerous and non-cancerous) and seen direct results. animal testing isn't necessary.

  7. We celebrate it when we make a new organism to fight cancer but freak out when we make a new type of corn that could save millions from starvation. Oh the hypocrisy of man.

  8. This *IS* exciting news. Speaking as someone who has lost six grandparents and a great-aunt to cancer, VERY exciting news indeed.

    (And before someone asks, yes six grandparents, there's a lot of divorce in the family.)

  9. Genetically modified engineering done right; and it seems that chemotherapy is like dropping showers of bombs on the whole body, but now we found transporters to deliver them to the right people.
    Also the sea, it still triumps!

  10. SOOO HAPPY! This is very promising news, now just have to wait for it to develop further with trials etc 😊😊😊

  11. If the algae only delivers its payload to cancer cells, why use chemotherapy drugs? The reason we use them instead of more potent chemicals that have some effect like directly inducing apoptosis is to minimize the damage to healthy tissue. Now that we have methods like this algae procedure that can do the selection themselves, is there any reason to use such relatively weak drugs?

  12. I'm glad that they're figuring out new ways to attack Cancers, considering my mother had it earlier this year. However, am I the only one who feels like this is the start of a zombie movie? Even in "I Am Legend", the zombie virus was created artificially. To fight cancer. >>

  13. my pops (grandpa) died of cancer 2 years ago. i spent most the ep yelling a crying about it and the fact that it was not around for treatment 2 years ago. R.I.P pops

  14. If our body is a forest and cancer is a localized fire then chemotherapy is like nuking the forest in hope of extinguishing that fire

  15. hahahahagcfgccsducvhgdr they've been coming up with fake ass cancer treatments just to scam the government out of his research money!!!

  16. This is the exact type of field I am planning to go into. As a freshman in highschool I'm wanting to go to Harvard as they are the best school for Biomedical Engineering.

  17. This is exciting stuff!!  Chemotherapy injection is basically poisoning the whole system to kill the few cells that it's aimed to destroy.  For an analogy it's basically taking an atom bomb and demolishing a whole city just so insurgents wouldn't escape from one building.
    This new form of administering the drug is a great way, to not only save money, but also maintain the general health of the patient while they are treated with chemotherapy.  I cannot wait for more research to come out on this and especially can't wait to see just how much more healthy chemotherapy patients will look and behave.

  18. This is great!Wait!If cancer is soon cured 100% will smoking just become normal because people believe it won't kill them?The air might get polluted or something.What are your guys opinion on this anyway or am I missing something important?

  19. This is so exciting! I can't wait until they can do more tests! This, if it works out well, will be awesome because it will allow the person's body to keep up and keep itself healthy while the cancer's being attacked.

  20. In a different video about why we haven't cured cancer they made the analogy of chemotherapy as being a hammer. Destroying the cancer cells but also those around it. With this discovery chemotherapy would be much less stressful on the rest of the body. A not though, they briefly mentioned in the video, they already knew the type of cancer that the patient had. So the time and money had already been put into that diagnosis. I would also have a concern about the algae reproducing and becoming a new problem. This may have been addressed in the study but not in the video. It's worth looking into.

  21. I know the guy that discovered this, he discovered this accidentally as a science project because he wanted to know why algae grew in lakes lol

  22. One day we'll skip all the healthcare and instead of injections we will all be genetically altered at conception to be immune to all these diseases and other cancerous illness #science.

    now the crazies try to stone me to death.

  23. why would the cancer cells have different receptors than the normal cells? for example normal fat cells and cancerous fat cells should have the same DNA that encode for their membrane receptors because that part of the DNA are undamaged.

  24. We also have to think of the failure modes here.  If the algae is producing toxins internally that can kill human cells, then it is a matter of mutation for it to gain the ability to latch onto healthy human cells.  So, we could accidentally create infectious killer algae.

  25. Dear fucking god, this could be Nobel Prize and winning and revolutionary stuff if it works well enough and is cheap enough to produce. I assume its possible to engineer these things to target any type of cancer cell.

  26. Algae : You wanna piece ah me?!
    Cancer: You talkin to me?!
    Algae: Yeah I'm talkin to you!
    Cancer: Oh yeah tough guy lets see what you got?!
    Algae: SAY HELLO TO MY LIL FRIEN!!!!!!

    Doctor: So how do you feel Mr.Jones?
    Mr.Jones:I feel great doc, feels like the cancer got blown away 🙂

  27. There's always science vs religion fights every time I see awesome breakthroughs. ;-; you guys all gotta stop and just watch a video, thank the hard work, and go on with your day.

  28. this rocks! thanks for this! I've had chemotherapy and know how much of an A-Hole it is, and glad that there's hope for other chemo patients! =]=]

  29. when is sci sho gunna grow some balls and talk about the tumor shrinking effects of cannabis extract

  30. The ability to selectively kill cancerous cell populations while leaving healthy cells unaffected is a key goal in anticancer therapeutics. The use of nanoporous silica-based materials as drug-delivery vehicles has recently proven successful, yet production of these materials requires costly and toxic chemicals. Here we use diatom microalgae-derived nanoporous biosilica to deliver chemotherapeutic drugs to cancer cells. The diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana is genetically engineered to display an IgG-binding domain of protein G on the biosilica surface, enabling attachment of cell-targeting antibodies. Neuroblastoma and B-lymphoma cells are selectively targeted and killed by biosilica displaying specific antibodies sorbed with drug-loaded nanoparticles. Treatment with the same biosilica leads to tumour growth regression in a subcutaneous mouse xenograft model of neuroblastoma. These data indicate that genetically engineered biosilica frustules may be used as versatile ‘backpacks’ for the targeted delivery of poorly water-soluble anticancer drugs to tumour sites.

  31. All well and good – scientists can only work as hard as the facilities and resources they have at their disposal, and unfortunately there's just not enough money being directed at cancer research… a shame when you think it will affect 1 in 2 of us in our lifetimes.

  32. What about a necrotic virus with the antibodies? It might be more difficult, but given time and careful manipulation, it could become an even more viable method of killing cancerous cells. By the way, I wasn't sure if cancer cells had different receptors from regular cells, so thank you.

  33. It's so bittersweet to hear about things like this… I'm glad they exist, but I wish they'd been around when Dad got sick. 🙁

  34. Going through chemo right now. It sure would be nice to have reduced side effects from those drugs. 1/3rd of the way done. I hope its doing its job.

  35. Wow, this is amazing. I think the FDA should keep testing this new cancer fighting algae. If the algae drug can replace chemotherapy, it could help the suffering of so many cancer patients. Almost everyone is affected my cancer, either directly or indirectly. Cancer is such a common disease and the treatments can have harmful side effects. Chemotherapy attacks all the cells in the body and stops them from replicating, which is why it has such dramatic effects on the body. The algae drug only attached to the cancer cells and stops them from replicating uncontrollably. This would eliminate the harmful effects that chemotherapy causes. Using the algae drug instead of chemotherapy would do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.

  36. This algae delivery system for chemotherapy would make fighting cancer so much easier due to ridding the illness that comes with the chemotherapy. Also after long fights with cancer that are eventually won, the life span after would increase due to the lack of wear on the body from the chemotherapy. It is also great that scientists found a natural way of improving chemotherapy so that is effective and will lessen the cost of cancer treatments. One major problem with cancer is that many people die without a fighting chance because of the cost of the treatment. This just the first step of creating effective and cost efficient way of treating cancer, because the number one reason for lack of treatments is cost. How cancer researchers come up with these revolutionary treatments, I do not know, but as they continue their breakthroughs cancer will become a thing of the past.

  37. Yeah, but if the cancer doesn't have receptors which are different from the healthy cells (most cases) than this doesn't do anything at all.

  38. Dude, this is the most understandable explanation of the effects of chemotherapy that I've ever come across. I'm thinking oooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I get it!

  39. Chemo causes cancer and stimulates cancer stem cells which means the cancer is made even more verilant by treating it with carininogenic chemo. Algae cures cancer a man named Michael kiriac has cured cancer with a combination of four algaes daniella,haematococcus,and two different strains of spirulina.

  40. why we need algae for Cancer-Fight anyway
    Truely we need is Genetically Engineered fast grow Algae for biofuel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *