People are often baffled as to why certain drugs work wonders for some, but not for them. Cancer patients, in particular, heavily rely on the chemotherapy drugs their doctors recommend, only to find out in the end that these drugs do not work as effectively as expected.

In a new study, researchers from the Ohio State University shed light on this question by developing a particle that can track the path of chemotherapy drugs as they travel inside the body.

The study findings may contribute to the development of new treatments and ways to revolutionize cancer care, specifically the manner in which chemotherapy drugs are being prescribed.

The researchers devised an organic, luminescent molecule called peptide that is made up of two amino acids.

According to Dr. Mingjun Zhang, biomedical engineering professor and lead author of the study, the particle can be combined with the drug a patient is currently taking. It will then be able to light up chemotherapy drug as it enters the body, allowing scientists to monitor their arrival inside the cell.

Through this invention, scientists will be able to identify how long it takes for a drug to take effect and where exactly the drug travels once inside the body. Experts can even label the peptide and trace the fluorescent signal via an optical detection system.

For the experiment, the researchers used a chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin, but the team says the vehicle can be applied to other treatment types as well.

One of the limitations of conventional substances used to track drugs is that they fade easily and go undetected in a short period of time. In the work of Zhang and colleagues, however, the blue peptide was observed to stay luminescent for extended durations.

In the past, biomedical engineers continued to develop techniques that are not only effective, but are also biocompatible. In the new study, the researchers say the peptide they have developed is able to coexist with human cells and leave the body harmlessly.

"This is very important for personalized medicine," says Zhang.

Knowing the unique interplay of cells and medicines in each individual patient is vital for choosing which treatments will be highly suitable for them, and the new invention supports just that.

The study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on Monday, Jan. 11. 

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