Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment by Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology – Impact On Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment:

Nanotechnology has an immense potential to meet the challenging needs of ever increasing healthcare concerns with cancer at the forefront.

Nanotechnology involves manipulating structures at nanoscale is an emerging new field. A team of scientists led by chemistry professor Joseph DeSimone, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (U.N.C.) has shown that the shape of these nanoparticles is much more important than size in expediting the penetration of drug in target human cells. In the passive form, this technology has been successfully used in products such as cosmetics and sunscreens and has the future implications in improved electronic equipments and better batteries etc. The application of nanotechnology has a huge potential in the medicine and healthcare sectors which ultimately provides tremendous benefits to society in future.

Cancer is one of the major causes of mortality worldwide. The most common cancer treatments are limited to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. The current anticancer agents have certain limitations for e.g. they are distributed systemically in the body in a non specific manner; drug concentrations do not reach the tumor in an adequate amount and they are unable to monitor the therapeutic response of the drug appropriately. Nanotechnology plays a revolutionary role in combating these challenges by offering the researchers with the wealth of tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Today, cancer-related nanotechnology is moving forward in two major areas: laboratory-based diagnostics and in vivo diagnostics and therapeutics.

In September 2004, the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in the hope that investments in this branch of nanomedicine could lead to breakthroughs in terms of detecting, diagnosing, and treating cancer. “We’ve pulled most of the key players in medical nanotechnology into this programme, and we’re spending about US$35–40 million a year on these approaches,” says Piotr Grodzinski, Director of the NCI Alliance.

An annual symposium for Integrative Cancer Research was conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on June 27, 2008 where speakers from MIT and various other institutions described the promising use of nanotechnology in diagnosing and treating cancer.

Nanotechnology and Diagnostics:

Nanotechnology holds a unique promise in detecting cancer at its earliest stages. It involves the tools which are sensitive enough to detect molecular changes even when they occur only in a few cells. Nanodevices such as nanowires and nanoscale cantilevers have been invented earlier as diagnostic tools for rapid and sensitive detection of cancer-related molecules.

Recently researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine demonstrated detection of cancer cells using “smart” targeted carbon nanotubes in mice in vivo. Once the nanotubes are homed in on the cancer cells, laser scans were conducted which resulted in absorption of laser energy by nanotubes and emission of ultrasound waves pinpointing the exact locations of tumor cells.

In an another diagnostic advance of nanotechnology, Emory researchers have attached a molecule, that specifically binds to pancreatic tumor cells, to nanoparticles made of iron oxide for the purpose of early detection of pancreatic cancer. “This work is an early demonstration that nanoparticles can be developed to target pancreatic cancer, opening new opportunities in detecting and treating tumors of low survival rates,” says Shuming Nie, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Minerva Biotechnology has discovered a key molecular mechanism involved in cancer cell growth and metastasis using nanoparticle technology. The company has collaborated with a leading diagnostic reference lab in California and has shown that MUC1* is expressed at a higher level than MUC1 (a cell surface receptor) in various human tumor tissues. This could provide valuable diagnostic and prognostic information on the development of tumors (PLoS ONE 3(4), e2054; 2008).

Nanotechnology and Cancer Therapy:

Polymeric dendrimers and nanoshells have been considered earlier for detection, treatment and monitoring of cancer. Recently, FDA approval of a nanoparticle formulation of paclitaxel bound to albumin (Abraxane of Abraxis BioSciences, USA) for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer has established a firm stand for nanotechnology in development of anticancer agents.

In India, Natco Pharma has launched Albupax, the first generic version of the international brand – Abraxane with sales of approximately US$375 million. Dabur Pharma, an Indian drug firm introduced the first nanoparticle drug delivery system-Nanoxel, to be developed outside US in 2007. The company will be conducting clinical trials very soon and hopes to market the drug in the next 18-36 months.

Geoffrey Von Maltzahn was awarded with 2009 Lemelson–M.I.T. Student Prize for developing a technique that utilizes nanosize gold particles to target and kill cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue. In preclinical mouse trials, 100 percent of tumors were eradicated with a single nanoparticle injection combined with near-infrared light. If we were injecting the medication directly into the tumor, it wouldn’t be a transformative technology. It’s essential to be able to inject it intravenously anywhere in the body and have it home in on the tumor.” Von Maltzahn says.

“If we were injecting the medication directly into the tumor, it wouldn’t be a transformative technology. It’s essential to be able to inject it intravenously anywhere in the body and have it home in on the tumor”

A team of Cancer Research UK scientists led by Dr Andreas Schatzlein, have for the first time developed a treatment, using nanotechnology, that transports ‘tumor busting’ genes selectively to cancer cells in mice. Once inside the cancer cells, the genes enclosed in the nanoparticles recognize the environment and switch on, and force the cell to produce proteins that can kill the cancer cells sparing the healthy cells.

Dr.Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said “these results are encouraging, and we look forward to see if this method can be used to treat cancer in people. Gene therapy is an exciting area of research, but targeting genetic changes to cancer cells has been a major challenge. This is the first time a solution has been proposed, so it’s exciting news.”

In another study conducted by the Wisconsin team, the investigators encapsulated green tea component epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) with the biocompatible polymer nanoparticles, which enhanced the cancer-preventing activity of EGCG by more than tenfold (Cancer Research 69, 1712; 2009).

In March 2009, an announcement that NCI selected Azaya Therapeutics, Inc for research collaboration had further added to the progress in the field of applied nanotechnology. The research would be conducted by the NCI’s Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) to study Azaya’s lead cancer therapy, ATI – 1123.

Scope of Nanotechnology in Pharma Industry:

Nanotechnology has an immense potential to influence the pharmaceutical industry in the near future. The pharma industry has been investing huge money in developing promising and novel drugs. Unfortunately most of these drugs end up being shelved and fail to be marketed due to the problems of toxicity caused mainly by solvents that are added to the formulations. Exploring the nanotechnology for reformulating these drugs provides the solution to this problem as manufacture of drugs at nanoscale avoids the use of solvents.

Nanotechnology has opened new avenues for the pharma giants in terms of improvising the delivery of existing drugs and development of entirely novel therapies utilizing the nanomaterials.

According to a newly released report from NanoMarkets, an industry consulting firm, nanotechnology-enabled drug delivery systems will generate over $1.7 billion ($US) in 2009 and over $4.8 billion in 2012.

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