Lifewatch: Nanotechnology

Reported by Claire Hosmnan - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - More than half of those people diagnosed with cancer undergo chemotherapy, which can often leave them with painful side effects.

Now, scientists are taking a much smaller, but more powerful approach to targeting the deadly disease.

Researchers are working on finding a more targeted way to get drugs for cancer to areas of the body where they are needed most.

Their goal is to reduce the amount of drugs that go to other areas and prevent unintended injury or side effects.

Valerie Buchanan never thought she'd be one of the 200,000 women every year who get breast cancer.

She acted aggressively when she found out and had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.  The grueling battle included side effects like nausea, weight gain, and exhaustion.

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancerous cells and healthy ones, but researchers are using nanotechnology to design a better plan of attack.

"Nanotechnology is a way to provide what we call targeted delivery of those drugs," said Dr. Mauro Ferrari.

Ferrari is testing a new drug delivery system to target cancer.

Nanocarriers 100 times smaller than a strand of hair are injected into the blood stream.  They travel to harmful cells where they release drugs.

"What we are trying to do is making sure that every drop of molecule, of drug injected into patients makes it to the cancer and none of it gets spilled and does damage in places that it is not supposed to touch," said Ferrari.

Ferrari hopes his nanotechnology can be used one day to treat heart disease, hemorrhaging, and other conditions that affect blood vessels.

For more information, please contact:
Natalie Wong Camarata, Media Relations Specialist
UT Health Science Center at Houston
(713) 500-3307

BACKGROUND: Nanotechnology involves working on an atomic or molecular scale to create materials or devices that are 100 nanometers in size or smaller. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Nanomedicine is an offspring of nanotechnology, but it's a field specific to medical intervention. Nanomedicine is thought to be an area of research that will enable many diseases and conditions that limit the human life expectancy to be wiped out.

A BETTER DRUG DELIVERY SYSTEM: Researchers at the NanoMedicine Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are working on a new more targeted way to get drugs for cancer and other diseases to areas of the body they're needed most. Their goal is to reduce the amount of drugs that go to other areas and prevent unintended injury, or side effects. With what's available in today's medical community, only a small fraction of an injected drug reaches its intended target. If too much drug is administered to a patient, it can hurt them, but if too little is given, there is no benefit. The new system could one day allow doctors to achieve optimal results with less medication.

The nanoscale drug delivery system is a multi-stage technique. Nanocarriers 100 times smaller than a strand of hair are guided through the blood system to diseased cells. Once they reach the cells, they release diagnostic agents, medicine, or both. In the first stage of the approach, nanocarriers go to the inner wall of blood vessels, near the unwanted cells. As those anocarriers degrade they release a second stage of more tiny nanoparticles that can penetrate the blood vessel wall to get inside the diseased cells. The third stage of the system involves the release of medications to kill the tumor and other agents that take images of it.  The nanocarriers are made of silicon, which is fully biodegradable so it won't injure the body.

Researchers are especially interested in using this upcoming technology to fight breast cancer. Preclinical tests are focusing on that application, which is currently being tested on animals that have human tumors. It is also hoped that the application can one day be used to treat heart disease, hemorrhaging and other diseases that affect blood vessels.

NANOTECHNOLOGY ABROAD: Using magnetic power, researchers in Berlin have found a way to use tiny particles of iron to fight brain tumors and prostate cancer. A clinical trial of their technology showed magnetic nanoparticles can be safely administered to humans and will produce localized tumor-killing temperatures when stimulated by an oscillating magnetic field. Investigators inject magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles directly into a patient's tumors. They then used a magnetic field to excite the nanoparticles, which produces heat, killing the tumor cells. Each treatment lasted one hour and was repeated weekly for six weeks. Patients reported discomfort caused by internal heating, but using tubes of cooled liquid keeps the skin cool enough to manage this side effect. The trial was too small to say this treatment is more effective than current treatments, though researchers did note eight of 10 patients experienced a decline in prostate specific antigen levels that lasted an average of 4.5 months after therapy.