Nano particles to improve cancer therapy

The challenges of chemotherapy

When doctors administer a drug, there are a few factors that go into deciding how much to give. Of particular importance are two key questions:

Firstly, how much drug does a patient need to be given to treat the disease?

Secondly, at what dose do the side effects outweigh the benefits for the patient?

A brown medication bottle with orange label, and a pink label on a yellow background. Both labels warn Caution, CHEMOTHERAPY, and instruct: Handle with gloves, Dispose of properly.
Chemotherapy drugs are so toxic, doctors and nurses administering them must take special precautions. Source: Left: Justin Levy via Flickr, Right: Ryan Ozawa via Flickr.

Chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic, particularly to the liver and kidneys. This makes it difficult for doctors to find a balance between giving enough drug to kill the cancer cells and giving too much, causing the drug to accumulate in and damage the liver and kidneys, which act as the body’s filtering system.

This is where nanoparticles come in….

Nanoparticles; scanning electron micrograph
Nanoparticles are pretty much what the name says- really, really, REALLY tiny particles, with a very special structure which means they have lots of useful properties. In this case, being magnetic, and able to deliver chemotherapy drugs. This image shows gold nanoparticles seen under a scanning electron micrograph. Source: NIST and the National Cancer Institute’s Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory.

Researchers from Michigan State University have developed a new way to monitor the amount of chemotherapy drug present in a patients body, to help doctors find this balance.

This new technique doesn’t just tell doctors how much drug is present in the body, it can show them where the drug is located. Using nanoparticles, doctors can see the concentration of a chemotherapy drug in the cancerous tumour, and in other tissues such as the liver and kidneys.

Everyone is different –the dose of chemotherapy drug which is appropriate for one patient may only stun, rather than kill, cancer cells in another, or, the dose may be too high and accumulate in the liver and kidneys. This new technology will help take the guesswork out of finding the right dose for each individual patient.


So how does it work?

Brian Smith, associate professor of biomedical engineering and his team have paired magnetic particles to a chemotherapy drug, so scans can show where the chemotherapy drug is located.

According to Smith, the technology is “noninvasive and could give doctors an immediate… visualisation of how the drug is being distributed anywhere in the body” which will allow doctors to “adjust amounts [of the chemotherapy drug] given on the fly”. This means doctors can kill cancer cells while minimising side effects to make the chemotherapy treatment safer, and less unpleasant for the patients.

Image result for mri scan
This image shows a magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of a human brain/skull. The nanoparticle technology being developed by Smith’s team will use a similar type of scan, which is much faster than MRI, called Magnetic Particle Imaging, to product images of patients which let doctors see where the chemotherapy drug is accumulating, and how much is present. Source: deradrian via Flickr

When will we see this new technology used in hospitals?

The technology is being tested in mice and so far has almost 100% accuracy.

Smith’s team are working towards testing the technology using different types of chemotherapy drug, and are trying to develop a multi-colour system which will show more clearly exactly how much drug is present in different parts of a patients body.

A scientist wearing a lab coat and purple gloves adds a sample to a magnetic particle imaging machine.
Magnetic Particle Imaging and nanotechnology developed at Michigan State University will soon allow doctors to monitor chemotherapy drug concentrations within a patients body in real-time. Source: Derrick Turner via Eureka Alert.

At this stage, clinical trials of the new technology are about seven years away. Although it doesn’t sound it, that is actually fairly soon in terms of developing a new way to help treat cancer!


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One Response to “Nano particles to improve cancer therapy”

  1. Lucy Baker says:

    I loved this blog. It is always so interesting to hear about health treatment advances. Thanks very much