People are always asking my opinion about the latest, greatest cancer treatments. Well, here is a fascinating one-minute video on new cancer technology that literally explodes cancer cells without harming healthy cells. In fact, it is supposedly 17 times more effective than conventional cancer therapy and can be used when cancers are inoperable or resistant to chemo and radiation! Check out the video and then I’ll share my thoughts below.
Hope or Hype?
Like many of the other 6.5 million people who have “liked” this video, you may be quite skeptical about this treatment. Is this just unfairly creating false hope? How many years will it take before animal experiments are applied in humans? How many desperate patients will lose their lives waiting? How expensive will treatment be? Will it only be available to a select few? Is this just another example of cancer corporate greed pricing a therapy out of the reach of the average patient? Is the treatment really safe or are there unpredictable side effects? If it is a miracle cure, will it get blocked by vested interest groups from the oncology establishment? (Indeed more people live off cancer than die of it!) Is nanotechnology fact or fiction?
Nanotechnology is fact. Nanoparticles are at the leading edge of the new and rapidly growing field of nanotechnology, which has grown exponentially over the last decade and is being applied now in many branches of science and medicine, including cancer.
Applications of Nanotechnology in Cancer
Gold nanoparticles are being investigated as promising agents for cancer diagnostics and therapy in numerous ways — as drug carriers (selectively targeting cancer cells), as photothermal agents (killing cancer cells with heat produced by light), as contrast agents (for better imaging of tumors) and as radiosensitisers (making cancer cells more susceptible to ionizing radiation).
Photodynamic Therapy: The video you just watched describes University of Copenhagen Niels Bohr Institute research demonstrating that laser irradiation of tiny nanoparticles injected directly into tumors can destroy the cancer from within. Photodynamic cancer therapy works with nanotechnology to destroy cancer cells by laser-generated atomic oxygen. Since cancer cells take in a greater quantity of the special oxygen-producing dye as compared with healthy cells, only the cancer cells are destroyed when exposed to laser radiation.
Effectiveness Assessment: If you have committed to undergo toxic treatment, wouldn’t be great if you could know within a few hours instead of several months whether the treatment is effective? Conventional detection methods — such as PET scans, CT and MRI — usually cannot detect whether a tumor is shrinking until you have received multiple cycles of therapy. Well, Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers report that nanotechology offers a new way to judge the effectiveness of chemotherapy in as few as eight hours after treatment. Using a nanoparticle that delivers a drug and then fluoresces green when cancer cells begin dying, researchers were able to visualize whether a tumor is resistant or susceptible to a particular treatment much sooner than with currently available clinical methods. The technology can also be used for monitoring the effectiveness of immunotherapy.
Drug Targeting: Have you undergone intensive cancer treatment only to have a recurrence within a few years? Recurrences and tumor spreading are likely due to cancer stem cells that can be tough to kill with conventional cancer drugs. But now researchers have designed nanoparticles that specifically target these chemo-resistant stem cells. In animal studies, the nanoparticle treatment worked far better than the drug alone.
Monoclonal Antibodies: Nanoparticles, such as the ones used in the laser-induced explosion on the video, can be engineered to have monoclonal antibodies attached to them. Monoclonal antibodies are able to recognize a single antigen (surface protein) on the cancer cell, bind to it, and start an immune response. This allows for selective treating of the cancer while sparing healthy cells.
Enhanced Diagnostic Imaging: Nanoparticles are not only valuable for targeting and treating cancer; they can also be used to help increase image visibility in both MRI and ultrasounds.
Nanotechnology in Clinical Trials
Although the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancerprogram has been successful in researching nanotechnology in the laboratory, of course the ultimate measure of the program’s success lies in the whether laboratory discoveries can be applied in the clinic. For that purpose, NCI established six Centers of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNEs), where nanotechnology-enabled diagnostic and therapeutic agents are already in human clinical trials. Here are a few examples:
- Scientists at the Nanosystems Biology Cancer Center at Caltech/UCLA are testing positron emission tomography (PET) imaging agents for help in choosing drugs to treat metastatic breast, non-small cell lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers, as well as leukemia and lymphomas. Tumors that are responsive to the drugs show up as bright images in PET scans.
- At the Center of Nanotechnology for Cancer at the University of California/San Diego, scientists have developed a chemically engineered adenovirus nanoparticle to deliver a molecule that stimulates the immune system. Phase I clinical trials are underway in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), with significant reductions in leukemia cell counts and reductions in the size of lymph nodes and spleen even after a single injection.
- Researchers at Caltech/UCLA CCNE are conducting clinical trials with a nanoparticle that helps shut down a key
enzyme in cancer cells among patients who have become resistant to other chemotherapies.
- At the Washington University CCNE, scientists have developed a nanoparticle MRI contrast agent that binds to newly developing blood vessels associated with early tumor development. Scientists are conducting Phase I clinical trials to assess its utility in the early detection of cancer.
- At the Northwestern University CCNE, nanotechnology has been shown to detect important cancer biomarkers, such as prostate specific antigen (PSA). Researchers are conducting a clinical study using nanoparticles to monitor very low levels of PSA to provide early warnings of disease recurrence.
- Investigators at the MIT-Harvard CCNE are conducting a clinical trial to determine if nanoparticles can be used to identify small and otherwise undetectable lymph node metastases.
- A nanotechnology-based chip developed at the Caltech/UCLA CCNE is being tested to determine its ability to measure levels of gene expression in melanoma patients before and after therapy.
- Clinical trials at the University of North Carolina CCNE are using scanners with nanotube technology to increase the precision and speed of CT scanning for detecting small tumors.
- Trials using a nanotechnpology agent to improve colorectal cancer imaging are being developed by the Stanford University CCNE.
- Scientists at the MIT-Harvard CCNE initiated a Phase 1 Clinical Study of a nano-compound to assess safety, tolerability, and dosage in patients with solid tumors and evaluate preliminary evidence of antitumor activity. Patients are currently being screened for eligibility in this clinical trial, which is being conducted at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer in Scottsdale, Arizona.
While nanotechnology is extremely promising and appears to be nearly within reach for those with cancer, we should remember that our bodies are already programmed with an incredibly sophisticated system of cell signaling and biochemical pathways programmed to destroy cancer cells. Most of us can enjoy excellent health simply by getting out of our own way, not interfering with that system through poor lifestyle choices, and allowing our bodies to do their jobs unhampered to help us to regain and maintain health.
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