by Kimberly Allen, RN
What is a nano? It’s one billionth of a meter. Which is tiny in the extreme. Nanomedicine is defined as “the medical application of nanotechnology.” There is currently research in numerous areas ranging from advanced drug delivery systems to in vivo imaging and nanoelectronics-based sensors.
Nanotechnology is one of the most exciting, happening things in medicine today. One area that is extremely promising is the use of nanotechnology in drug delivery, especailly in cancer treatment. There are various institutes accross the country that are researching different techniques for drug delivery using nanotechnology. In all cases the goal is to be able to deliver the strong anticancer drugs directly to the cancer cells and killing them without harming the healthy cells in the area. Scientists have discovered that they can take nanoparticles and cover them with cancer seeking proteins as well as fill them with chemotherapy drugs. There is also a new nano-based compound known as BIND14 that has the ability to target tumors that is currently in human trials. Researchers are reporting good results with no major saftey issues. The nanoparticles were all loaded with docetaxel which is already an approved drug for cancer treatment. Patients in the clinical trials had advanced or metastatic cancer and were given an injection of the nanoparticle containing the drug once every 3 weeks. Scientists found that the drug would stay in the body for 2 days. during that 2 days the drug would work on killing the tumor cells. The results were promising. In many patients the tumor growth was slowed, while in oothers the tumors have been shrinking and in still others completely vanishing.
Another researcher has developed a different method of using nanoparticles in treating cancer cells. This method involves attatching nanoparticles to cancer cells and then illuminating them with either white, UV, or near infrared light. The illuminating with light causes the nanoparticles to become super heated therefore burning the cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unharmed. This method has shown great promise in preclinical trials especially in killing melanomas and brain tumors cells.
Probably the most promising research in the area of nano drug delivery is gold nanoshells. Gold nanoshells are minute hollow spheres composed of gold atoms. To give you an idea of just how tiny they are, the wave length of the light we see is 10 times longer than the diameter of these gold nanoshells. Scientists discovered that by changing the size and thickness of the shell they can be made to be highly sensitive to the light in the near infrared spectrum. Generally near infrared light passes through your body without doing any harm, but the gold shells that have been made to be sensitive to the light can be heated inside killing cancer cells without you even knowing it. Though there has been research involving other gold shapes including rods and solid spheres, the nanoshell demonstrated the ability to absorb energy 50% better than any of the other shapes. It’s crucial that each shell be able to absorb as much energy as possible which allows for the use of a lower overall dose of near infrared light.
There is also research in using gold nanoparticles as detecting devices. There are numerous areas in which nanoparticles are being tested and developed including defeating viruses and vaccines.
For over 100 years scientists have been trying to kill the cancer cells without damaging the rest of the body and now with nanotechnology that goal seem’s to be in reach. Many believe we are very close to being able to kill the cancer without the severe side effects of the current treatments.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.