Researchers: Nano-cocktail could target, kill cancerous tumors

University research teams mix nanomaterials that give tumors a one-two punch in trials

Teams of researchers from three universities are jointly developing a nanotechnology cocktail that should target and kill cancerous tumors.

The mixture of two different-sized nanoparticles work with the body's bloodstream to seek out, stick to and kill tumors, according to MIT. The nanomaterials, which are a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, are injected into the patient's vein. One nanomaterial is designed find the cancerous tumor and then adhere to it, while the second nanomaterial is designed to then kill the tumor.

"This study represents the first example of the benefits of employing a cooperative nanosystem to fight cancer," said Michael Sailor, a lead researcher on the project and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego.

The study, which has been tested on mice, is being conducted by teams of researchers at MIT, the University of California, San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara.

Nanotechnology has been a key part of a great deal of medical research efforts in the past few years.

Earlier this week, a team of British researchers announced plans to launch tests of nanotechnology-based artificial arteries in human hearts and legs. The artificial arteries are made of a polymer material that's combined with nanomaterials. Scientists at London's Royal Free Hospital reported that the nanomaterials can mimic natural vessels by pulsing along with the beating of the patient's heart.

Also, Stanford University researchers announced in October that they had used nanotechnology and magnetics to create a biosensor designed to detect cancer in its early stages, making a cure more likely. University scientists reported that the sensor, which sits on a microchip, is 1,000 times more sensitive than cancer detectors used clinically today.

A month earlier, researchers at the University of Toronto said they had used nanomaterials to develop a microchip that is sensitive enough to detect early stage cancer. The chip is designed to detect the type of cancer and its severity.

The latest nano-cocktail study takes a page from traditional drug cocktails that combine a mixture of medications to better target a disease.

"For example, a nanoparticle that is engineered to circulate through a cancer patient's body for a long period of time is more likely to encounter a tumor," said Sangeeta Bhatia, a team researcher and physician, bioengineer and a professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT. "However, that nanoparticle may not be able to stick to tumor cells once it finds them. Likewise, a particle that is engineered to adhere tightly to tumors may not be able to circulate in the body long enough to encounter one in the first place."

The team turned to the mix believing it would offer more effective treatment, she said.

"Think of them like soldiers attacking an enemy base," said Sailor, in a statement. "The gold nanorods are the Special Forces, who come in first to mark the target. Then the Air Force flies in to deliver the laser-guided bomb. The devices are designed to minimize collateral damage to the rest of the body."

Sharon Gaudin covers Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies and desktop/laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter @sgaudin, send e-mail at sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

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