Nanotech and Cancer

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Tim Mack

Tim Mack

One of the most encouraging trends in medicine in recent years is the growth of systemic approaches to problem solving, much like approaches in foresight. In other words, a range of factors often affect an outcome, each requiring a solution that must work effectively in combination with other related solutions.

A critical example of this multiple-problem challenge is improving chemotherapy delivery in cancer treatment. Historically, the challenge has been to target drugs accurately at cancer cells; the powerful drugs may often cause damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The body may also treat these medical interventions as intruders, attacking and disabling them through human immune mechanisms. Moreover, even drug packages that actually reach the targeted tumor may be entangled in the dense outer structures of a malignant mass, and thus unable to reach and fully affect its critical internal structures.

Recently, researchers have used nanotech to create protective vehicles and delivery mechanisms that now appear to overcome these obstacles. For example, a team at the University of Tokyo has developed nano-level sheaths out of glycol that can contain drug packages 200 times smaller than a red-blood cell. Called polymeric micelles, these drug-delivery packages can penetrate tumors by slipping through the irregular tumor surface; their smooth and neutral coating prevents antibody defenses from activating. After delivering drugs to their targets, the packages then dissolve in the high-acid cores of cancer tumors.

There is hope that these nanotech sheaths can be now combined with cancer-seeking antibodies already developed and may also offer the ability to slip through the blood-brain barrier, which has continued to resist traditional drug delivery. As is often the case in new and converging technological developments, each of these developments is likely to further accelerate advances in related technology solutions.

Timothy C. Mack is managing principal of AAI Foresight Inc.

Source: Horacio Cabral and Kazunori Kataoka, “Progress of Drug-Loaded Polymeric Micelles into Clinical Studies,” Journal of Controlled Release (September 28, 2014), Volume 190, pages 465-476.

Image: Rhoda Baer, National Cancer Institute

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