Aptamers: A Game-Changer in the Fight Against Gastrointestinal Cancers

February 22, 2024

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers present a substantial global health challenge, characterised by high mortality rates and lower survival rates compared to breast and lung cancers. In addressing this pressing need for enhanced diagnosis and treatment outcomes, Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen, from the Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology at INTI International University, undertook groundbreaking research emphasising the transformative potential of aptamers in combatting GI cancers.

Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen, from the Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology at INTI International University, is investigating the potential of aptamers in fighting gastrointestinal (GI) cancers. Aptamers are highly versatile and can identify biomarkers, target specific cells, and deliver drugs. This makes them a promising tool for improving diagnosis and treatment outcomes in the global battle against GI cancers.

Collectively, GI cancers, including colorectal cancer (CRC), stomach/gastric cancer (GC), liver cancer (LC), esophageal cancer (EC), and pancreatic cancer (PC), contribute to approximately 4.2 million new cases and 3.1 million deaths globally each year. Despite advancements in medical science, treatment outcomes for GI cancer patients remain unsatisfactory, primarily due to inadequate diagnosis and limited targeted drug delivery systems.

“We are at a crucial juncture in the fight against gastrointestinal cancers, where innovative solutions like aptamers hold immense promise,” remarked Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen. “The versatility and specificity of aptamers offer a new frontier in improving diagnosis and treatment outcomes for patients battling these challenging diseases.”

Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen explains that aptamers, short single-stranded oligonucleotides or peptides, have emerged as promising tools in biomarker identification, targeting, and drug delivery systems. Their natural and chemically modifiable binding capabilities and high affinity and specificity offer advantages over traditional antibodies. Aptamers have diverse applications in GI cancer diagnosis, medical imaging, prognosis, and drug delivery systems, which are significant.

The comprehensive review explores the generation, characteristics, and classifications of aptamers, providing valuable insights into their recent applications in GI cancer research. The molecular targets and associated mechanisms offer potential avenues for improved treatments for GI cancers.

Conventional biomarkers, such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and carbohydrate antigen (CA19-9), have limitations, prompting the search for more reliable alternatives. With their ability to selectively bind to cancer cells and influence downstream molecular signalling pathways, aptamers offer a new paradigm in cancer diagnostics, targeting, and therapeutics. Their versatility allows conjugation with drugs or other molecules to formulate targeted drug delivery systems, minimising toxicity and enhancing therapeutic efficacy.

“Investing in further research and collaboration is pivotal to unlocking the full potential of aptamers in clinical practice,” stated Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen. “By expanding our understanding and application of these molecular tools, we can revolutionise how we approach gastrointestinal cancer treatment, ultimately enhancing patient care and outcomes.”

In a world where early detection is critical, aptamers show great promise in detecting circulating tumour cells and in vivo imaging. By efficiently capturing circulating tumour antigens, aptamers, when combined with radionuclides or fluorescent molecules, prove to be vital tools in the imaging diagnosis of cancer cells.

Applying aptamers in pre-clinical phases is limited to several types of GI cancers. Still, they should be further explored for their diagnostic, prognostic, biosensing, or imaging capabilities, therapeutic agents, and effective drug delivery systems.

The transformative potential of aptamers in combating gastrointestinal (GI) cancers is evident, offering a promising avenue for improved diagnosis and treatment outcomes. Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen’s groundbreaking research highlighted that aptamers exhibit remarkable binding capabilities and versatility, making them valuable tools in biomarker identification, targeting, and drug delivery systems for GI cancers.

Further research and development are necessary to fully realise the clinical potential of aptamers in GI cancer treatment. Future studies should concentrate on expanding the scope of aptamer applications, including investigating their effectiveness in targeting specific molecular pathways associated with GI cancers. Optimising aptamer-based diagnostic and imaging techniques could also enhance early detection and monitoring of GI cancer progression.

Moreover, addressing challenges related to the clinical translation of aptamers, such as ensuring safety, scalability, and regulatory approval, will be crucial for their widespread adoption in clinical practice. Collaborative initiatives between researchers, clinicians, and industry partners will be pivotal in advancing aptamer-based therapies and diagnostic tools for GI cancers.

Overall, while significant progress has been made in understanding the potential of aptamers, continued investment, and innovation are essential to harnessing their full therapeutic and diagnostic capabilities in the battle against GI cancers. Through concerted efforts and interdisciplinary collaboration, strides can be made towards a future where aptamer-based interventions significantly improve outcomes for GI cancer patients worldwide.