Research teams have created an entirely new kind of drug-delivery system to give doctors the ability to treat cancer in a more targeted way. The system employs drugs that are activated by ultrasound — and only right where they are needed in the body.

The teams married gas vesicles (air-filled capsules of protein found in some bacteria) and mechanophores (molecules that undergo a chemical change when subjected to physical force). As they began researching the combination of mechanophores and ultrasound, they discovered a problem: Ultrasound could activate the mechanophores, but only at an intensity so strong that it also damaged neighboring tissues. What the researchers needed was a way to focus the energy of the ultrasound right where they wanted it. It turned out that Shapiro’s gas vesicle technology provided the solution.

Researchers say applying force through ultrasound usually relies on very intense conditions that trigger the implosion of tiny, dissolved gas bubbles. The collapse of the bubbles provides the mechanical force that activates the mechanophore. The vesicles have heightened sensitivity to ultrasound. Using them, the researchers found the same mechanophore activation can be achieved under much weaker ultrasound.” (Image credit: Caltech)

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