Nanoparticles Could Be Tiny Cancer Assassins

microscopeTraditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy have a big drawback: They kill healthy cells as well as malignant ones, producing unpleasant side effects that can range from bothersome to potentially fatal. Nanoparticles, or microscopic particles, may offer an alternative to these physically taxing therapies. According to the National Cancer Institute’s Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, nanoparticles are able to protect drugs from being degraded in the body before reaching their target, and they help the absorption of drugs into tumors and cells.

One type of nanoparticle currently in development engages in “active targeting,” or targeting drugs to cancer cells by attaching them to a molecule that the cancer cell is receptive to. The cancer cell takes up the nanoparticle, which delivers the drug payload and destroys the cancer cell, sparing healthy tissue. Scientists at Scripps Research Institute announced that they may be able to use this type of nanotechnology to treat B cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that includes non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Scripps researchers attached a sugar (ligand) that B cells would recognize to a nanoparticle loaded with the cancer drug doxorubicin. Two groups of mice received a dose of the treatment. Out of the mice that received a higher-ligand dose, five out of eight survived the study. Researchers did not detect any tumor cells in the bone marrow of the survivors. The compound also demonstrated effectiveness when applied to human blood samples from B cell lymphoma patients.

Gold nanoparticles also hold promise as potential cancer killers. Recently published study data from the University of California at Los Angeles demonstrated that gold particles were able to destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells more or less unharmed, DailyTech reports.

The United Nations forecasts that the worldwide incidence of cancer will double by 2030. Whether or not their prediction pans out, there is still an urgent need for cancer treatments that are easier on the body–a space that nanotechnology may be able to fill. 

Some companies developing nanotechnology treatments for cancer include the following:

Nanobiotix is currently testing the NanoXray platform, which involves injecting tumor-targeting nanoparticles into the patient. An X-ray is used to trigger the nanoparticles to attack the cancerous cells they are attached to. The particles are not loaded with drugs, but are designed to generate free radicals that can cause cell inactivation or cell death. The nanoparticles can be turned “on” and “off” using an X-ray.

LiPlasome Pharma, which has a pipeline of drug-delivery systems for targeted cancer therapy using existing anti-cancer drugs.

Nanospectra Biosciences, a company focused on commercializing particle-based therapies for the thermal destruction of solid tumors. The company’s technology involves delivering nanoparticles to the tumor and activating the particles with a laser, causing them to heat up and destroy the tumor. The system is currently undergoing clinical trials for head and neck cancer.

PDS Technology Corporation, which is developing a nanoparticle-based therapy designed to stimulate immune response to fight cancer and other diseases.

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