Pew-Stewart Scholar Builds 'Nano Robots' to Deliver Cancer Drugs

Pew-Stewart scholar Shawn Douglas, Ph.D., an assistant professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, is using nanotechnology to create a safer, more effective delivery system for cancer drugs.

Drugs used to treat cancer often have powerful side effects. “The goal is to poison the cancer cells, but they potentially poison every cell because they’re not targeted,” Douglas says in a video produced by Bloomberg Business. “How do we make better drugs to treat cancer safely and effectively?”

Douglas is developing microscopic “robots” that are able to carry cancer-killing drugs directly to tumors while protecting healthy cells from their cargo. The “nano robots” are actually capsules filled with drug molecules and sealed with interlocking strands of DNA. The DNA recognizes, and binds to, specific proteins on cancer cells, unlocking the capsules and releasing the drugs. This research could have positive implications for cancer patients—including a major reduction in drug-related side effects.

Douglas is a member of the inaugural class of Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research, a national initiative designed to support promising early-career scientists whose research will accelerate discovery and advance progress to a cure for cancer. Funded by the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust and administered by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the program supports five investigators each year.