Nanotechnology to fight brain cancer

In yet another promising example of nanotechnology being used to defeat cancer, tells us of work at University of Michigan on brain cancer research:

Tiny “nanoparticles” can be loaded with high concentrations of drugs to kill brain cancer, U.S. researchers report.

Researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center incorporated the drug Photofrin into nanoparticles (about one-billionth of a meter in size) that would target brain tumors.

Photofrin is drawn through the bloodstream to tumors. Doctors then use a special laser light to activate the drug, which collapses the blood vessels that feed the tumor. Without its blood supply, the tumor starves.

The drug has been used to treat several types of cancer, but “free” Photofrin therapy can damage healthy tissue. Nanoparticles allow direct delivery of Photofrin to the tumor, the researchers explained.

As reported in the current issue of Clinical Cancer Research, the researchers found that rats with cancer that received traditional Photofrin therapy survived 13 days, while rats treated with the Photofrin/nanoparticle method survived an average of 33 days, and another 40 percent remained disease-free six months after treatment.

“Thinking outside the box is a must for developing brain cancer treatments,” study author Alnawaz Rehemtulla, a professor of radiology and radiation oncology, said in a prepared statement.

“Drugs don’t get into the brain when delivered the normal way, which explains in part why some current treatments for brain tumors are generally not effective. Targeting the tumor vasculature with nanoparticles containing a payload will overcome these issues,” Rehemtulla said.

Nanoparticles can get into the brain: usually this is portrayed as a potential problem, but this work shows that it has a bright side as well.

Of all the near-term nanomaterial work being done, the cancer treatments are the most exciting. This is high praise, since there is plenty of other worthy work in progress. Even to those of us who focus on the long-term goals, effective cancer treatments merit major attention. —Christine

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