Benefits & Clinical Outcomes of Nanotchnology in Cancer Treatment
The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) started the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer in September 2004. This was so that the new organization could push forward the concept of using nanotechnology to cure cancer. This body would initiate and coordinate the efforts of research in the fields of biology, materials science and engineering to pursue this application of nanotechnology. After 2 years of these efforts, their field of study is receiving proper attention. The use of nanotechnology featured in the top 5 breakthroughs of science as documented in a 2007 issue of Forbes magazine.
How is nanotechnology being applied?
In the treatment and possible cure of cancer, nanotechnology is being applied in the innovation of nanovectors that can be loaded with medicines and targeted at cancerous tumors to heal them. It is also being applied in the use of nanosensor devices. These work by identifying the biological signatures of cancer in the body. When these nanotechnology innovations are used together, they can reduce the numbers of cancer cases exponentially and even possibly heal cancer patients. Through early diagnosis and targeted treatment, many cancer patients would benefit from nanotechnology.
Efforts of the NCI
To ensure that this technology survives, this institute currently provides funds to 8 centers known as Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (CCNE). They are distributed across the U.S.A. In addition to these, the institute also funds 12 other smaller initiatives. $35 to 40 million is being used to fund these initiatives. Piotr Grodzinski, the director of the NCI Alliance foresaw that there would be programs to follow these up leading up to the year 2010. He also hopes that by this time, the nanotechnology will have grown into an approach that can be used in the clinics.
The Forbes magazine highlighted research that was conducted by a group of scientists that were led by Robert Langer. He is a chemical engineer and Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His team used nanoparticles that had a coating of aptameters. These are guidance entities that make the nanoparticles target tumors. Once they get to one, they attach to and enter the tumor cells. After they have got inside, the nanoparticles dissolve and spill their contents into the tumor. The contents are a drug that combats cancer known as docetaxel. To help them navigate the blood stream, the nanoparticles have a coat of polyethylene glycol (PEG). This coating protects them until they get to the tumor. In their tests, the team discovered that one injection of these nanoparticles completely healed the tumors in the prostate of a mouse. After conducting further experiments, Dr. Langer indicated that this form of cancer treatment is safe and effective.
Challenges they faced
The main challenge that this team faced was coming up with nanoparticles that can effectively target the cancerous tissue and cells. They solved this problem when they used the aptameters in the coating of the nanoparticles. They also came up with another possible solution. They began exploiting the idea of adapting the size and shape of the nanoparticles such that they can access the cancerous tissues by being unable to cross other healthy membranes. The field of using nanotechnology in medicine is very promising.
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