Nanotechnology in Cancer Treatment

Nanotechnology in Cancer Treatment

The use of nanotechnology in cancer treatment offers some exciting possibilities, including the possibility of destroying cancer tumors with minimal damage to healthy tissue and organs, as well as the detection  and elimination of cancer cells before they form tumors.

Most efforts to  improve cancer treatment through nanotechnology are at the research or development stage. However the effort to make these treatments a reality is highly focused. For example, The Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, established by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, is fostering innovation and collaboration among researchers to resolve some of the major challenges in the application of nanotechnology to cancer. In addition, there are many universities and companies worldwide working in this area. It is possible that these efforts will result in cancer becoming being nearly eliminated in a decade or so, in the same way that vaccines nearly eliminated smallpox in the last century.

The next section provides examples of the research underway, a few of the methods discussed have reached the pre-clinical or clinical trial stage.

Cancer Treatments Under Development

One treatment involves targeted chemotherapy that delivers a tumor-killing agent called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF) to cancer tumors.  TNF is attached to a gold nanoparticle along with Thiol-derivatized polyethylene glycol (PEG-THIOL), which hides the TNF bearing nanoparticle from the immune system. This allows the nanoparticle to flow through the blood stream without being attacked. For more details read the article at this link. The company developing this targeted chemotherapy method to deliver TNF and other chemotherapy drugs to cancer tumors is called CytImmune.

Another technique being tested in clincal trials works on destroying cancer tumors by applying heat. Nanoparticles called AuroShells absorb infrared light from a laser, turning the light into heat. This technique is currently being used in clincal trials.

Using iron-oxide nanoparticles and a magnetic field to heat up cancer tumors has been shown to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells in other parts of the body. This methodology may be useful in preventing the spread of cancer cells, while other techniques are used to fight localized tumors.

Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and IBM researchers have demonstrated sustained drug delivery using a hydrogel. The hydrogel is injected under the skin, allowing continuous drug release for weeks, with only one injection, rather than repeated injections. They demonstrated this method by injecting the hydrogel, containing the chemotherapy drug herceptin, under the skin of laboratory mice. The study showed significant reduction in tumor size.

Another targeted chemotherapy technique uses polymer nanoparticles to to carry the a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel. The nanoparticles are attracted to a protein present on many types of cancer tumors, resulting in a high rate of delivery of the chemotherapy drug to the tumors. For more details read the article at this link. The company developing this targeted chemotherapy method is called BIND Biosciences.

Researchers are testing the use of chemotherapy drugs attached to nanodiamonds to treat brain tumors. The nanodiamond/chemotherapy drug combination stays in the tumor longer than the chemotherapy drug by itself, which should increase the effectiveness.

Researchers are also testing the use of chemotherapy drugs attached to nanodiamonds to treat leukemia. It turns out that leukemia cancer cells can pump chemotherapy drugs out of the cancer cell, limiting the effectiveness of the drug. The cancer cell can not pump the nanodiamond out, so attaching the drug molecules to nanodiamonds results in the drug staying in the cancer cell longer.

Researchers are connecting different DNA strands together into a structure they call a "nanotrain".  They have demostrated in lab studies that these nanotrains are effective in delivering chemothreapy drugs to cancer cells, and that by using different DNA strands they can customize which type of cancer cells the nanotrains target.

Researchers are testing a nanoparticle carrying a chemothreapy drug (camptothecin) along with a antibody (herceptin) that targets breast cancer cells. The lab tests in mice produced very postitive results.

Researchers at UC San Diego have encapsulated an anti-cancer drug called staurosporine in liposome nanoparticles. They demonstrated the staurosporine bearing particles were effective in suppressing tumors in mice without apparent side effects.

Researchers are developing a nanoparticle that both delivers a chemotherapy drug and stimulates the immune system to attack cancer cells. They have tested the method on mice with positive results.

Researchers have developed  nanoparticles containing a radioactive core with attached molecules that attach to lymphoma tumor cells. The researchers are designing this method to stop the spread of cancer from the primary tumor.

Reseachers have demonstrated a nanoparticle that kills lymphoma cancer cells. They use a nanoparticle which looks like HDL cholesterol, but with a gold nanoparicle at it's core. When this nanoparticle attaches to a lymphoma cell it blocks the cancer cell from attaching to real HLD cholesterol, starving the cancer cell.

Researchers have demonstrated a method of delivering a protein to cancer cells that destroys the cancer cells. They use a polymer nanoshell to deliver the protein into the cancer cells. When the protein accumlates in the nucleus of the cancer cell the protein causes the cancer cell to self-destruct.

Researchers are using a photosensitizing agent to enhance the ability of drug carrying nanoparticles to enter tumors. First they let the photosensitizing agent accumulate in the tumor, then illuminate the tumor with infrared light. The photosensitizing agent causes the blood vessels in the tumor to be more porous, therefore more drug carrying nanoparticles can enter the tumor.

Researchers are investigating the use of bismuth nanoparticles to concentrate radiation used in radiation therapy to treat cancer tumors. Initial results indicate that the bismuth nanoparticles would increase the radiation dose to the tumor by 90 percent.

A method being developed to fight skin cancer uses gold nanoparticles to which RNA molecules are attached. The nanoparticles are in an ointment that is applied to the skin. The nanoparticles penetrate the skin and the RNA attaches to a cancer related gene, stopping the gene from generating proteins that are used in the growth of skin cancer tumors.

A method being developed to fight bladder cancer uses nanoparticles called micelles to deliver a chemotherapy drug called paclitaxel to bladder cancer cells.

One  heat therapy to destroy cancer tumors using nanoparticles is called AuroShell™. The AuroShell™ nanoparticles circulate through a patients bloodstream, exiting where the blood vessels are leaking at the site of cancer tumors. Once the nanoparticles accumulate at the tumor the AuroShell™ nanoparticles are used to concentrate the heat from infrared light to destroy cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding healthy cells. For a good visual illustration of this process, click  here. Nanospectra Biosciences has developed such a treatment using AuroShell™ that has been approved for a pilot trial with human patients.

Targeted heat therapy is being developed to destroy breast cancer tumors. In this method antibodies that are strongly attracted to proteins produced in one type of breast cancer cell are attached to nanotubes, causing the nanotubes to accumulate at the tumor. Infrared light from a laser is absorbed by the nanotubes and produces heat that incinerates the tumor. For more details read the article at this link.

X-ray therapy may be able to destroy cancer tumors using a nanoparticle called nbtxr3. The nbtxr3 nanoparticles, when activated by x-rays, generate electrons that cause the destruction of cancer tumors to which they have attached themselves. Click here for more details on this method. This is intended to be used in place of radiation therapy with much less damage to healthy tissue.  Nanobiotix has released preclinical results for this technique.

An intriguing targeted chemotherapy method uses one nanoparticle to deliver the chemotherapy drug and a separate nanoparticle to guide the drug carrier to the tumor. First gold nanorods circulating through the bloodstream exit where the blood vessels are leaking at the site of cancer tumors. Once the nanorods accumulate at the tumor they are used to concentrate the heat from infrared light; heating up the tumor. This heat increases the level of a stress related protein on the surface of the tumor. The drug carrying nanoparticle (a liposome) is attached to amino acids that bind to this protein, so the increased level of protein at the tumor speeds up the accumulation of the chemotherapy drug carrying liposome at the tumor. For more details read the article at this link.

An improved way to shield nanoparticles delivering chemotherapy drugs from the immune system has been developed by forming the nanoparticles from the membranes of red blood cells.

Delivery of short interfering RNAs (siRNA) is interesting because siRNA simply stops the cancer tumor from growing and there is the potential to tailor synthetic siRNA to the version of cancer in a individual patient. For more details read the article at this link.

A method to increase the number of cancer fighting immune cells in cancer tumors is interesting. Nanoparticles containing drug molecules called interleukins are attached to immune cells ( T-cells). The idea is that when the T-cells reach a tumor the nanoparticles release the drug molecules, which cause the T-cells to reproduce. If enough T-cells are reproduced in the cancer tumor the cancer can be destroyed. This method has been tested on laboratory mice with very good results. 

Researchers have demonstrated a method of delivering a protein to cancer cells that destroys the cancer cells. They use a polymer nanoshell to deliver the protein into the cancer cells. When the protein accumlates in the nucleus of the cancer cell the protein causes the cancer cell to self-destruct.

Reseachers have demonstrated a nanoparticle that kills lymphoma cancer cells. They use a nanoparticle which looks like HDL cholesterol, but with a gold nanoparicle at it's core. When this nanoparticle attaches to a lymphoma cell it blocks the cancer cell from attaching to real HLD cholesterol, starving the cancer cell.

Magnetic nanoparticles that attach to cancer cells in the blood stream may allow the cancer cells to be removed before they establish new tumors. For more details read the article at this link.

Another method that targets individual cancer cells inserts gold nanoparticles into the cells, then shines a laser on the nanoparticles. The heat explodes the cancer cells. For more details read the article at this link.

A method to make radiation therapy more effect in fighting prostate cancer is using radioactive gold nanoparticles attached to a molecule that is attracted to prostate tumor cells. Researchers believe that this method will help concentrate the radioactive nanoparticles at the cancer tumors, allowing treatment of the tumors with minimal damage to healthy tissue.

Using gold nanoparticles to deliver platinum to cancer tumors may reduce the side effects of platinum cancer therapy. The key is that the toxicity level of platinum depends upon the molecule it is bonded to (for the tech types the toxicity depends upon the oxidation state of the platinum). So the researchers chose a platinum containing molecule that has low toxicity to attach to the gold nanoparticles. When the platinum bearing nanoparticle reaches a cancer tumor it encounters an acidic solution which changes the platinum to it's toxic state, in which it can kill cancer cells. For more details read the article at this link

Other researchers are taking a different approach to delivering platinum to cancer tumors. Instead of attaching platinum to nanoparticles they have used molecular building blocks to produce nanoparticles designed to deliver platinum to cancer tumors.  For more details read the article at this link.

Using polymer nanoparticles to deliver a molecule called JSI-124 to cancer tumors. This molecule degrades the ability of the cancer cells to suppress the immune system, possibly slowing the growth of cancer tumors. For more details read the article at this link.

Iron oxide nanoparticles can be used to improve MRI images of cancer tumors. The nanoparticle is coated with a peptide that binds to a cancer tumor. Once the nanoparticles are attached to the tumor, the magnetic property of the iron oxide enhances the images from the Magnetic Resonance Imagining scan.

Sensors based upon nanoparticles or nanowires can detect proteins related to specific types of cancer cells in blood samples. This could allow early detection of cancer.  T2 Biosystems uses superparamagnetic nanoparticles that bind to the cancer indicating protein and cluster together. These clusters provide a magnetic resonance signal indicating the presence of the cancer related protein.  For another approach researchers at John Hopkins University use quantum dots and molecules that emit a fluorescent glow to detect DNA strands that are early indicators of cancer.

Cancer Treatments using Nanotechnology: Company Directory

Company Product
CytImmune Gold nanoparticles for targeted delivery of drugs to tumors
NanoBioMagnetics Magnetically responsive nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery and other applications
Abraxis BioScience Nanoparticles composed of a protein called albumin for targeted delivery of drugs to tumors

More Nanotechnology Cancer Treatment Companies

Nanotechnology in Cancer Treatment: Resources

National Cancer Institute Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer; This alliance includes a Nanotechnology Characterization Lab as well as eight Centers of  Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is funding research at eight Nanomedicine Development Centers.

 

Compiled by Earl Boysen of Hawk's Perch Technical Writing, LLC and UnderstandingNano.com. You can find him on Google+.

 

 

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