Researchers at the University of Texas have used breakthrough nano-technology to treat melanomas in lab rats. The researchers have equipped gold nano-spheres with peptides that target melanoma cells, penetrate them and, as they are heated with lasers, cook the targeted cells. Nanotechnology is the future of cancer treatment; since the evolution of cancer happens at a nano level, the treatment of the cancer at this level is the most effective. Nano particles are hundreds of times smaller than human cells. They act independently and if the particles are programmed to target cancer cells, the treatment is also minimally invasive.
The researchers discovered that the peptide-armed particles are eight times more effective than similar non-targeted nano-particles. Previously, it was difficult to differentiate healthy cells from cancerous cells with nano-particles. However, the peptide the US researches used is highly targeted to melanocortin type 1 receptors that are present in large amounts in melanoma cells.
Photothermal ablution is used to heat up the particles to enable them to destroy the cancerous cells. Photothermal treatment was originally used without the nano-particles and instead made use of optical fibers to administer the heat, but this was potentially dangerous as the light hits and cooks healthy cells as well. The nano-spheres absorb the infra-red light and change it to heat and only 12% of the photothermal dose is needed when implemented with the gold spheres. The spheres are made from pure gold, which is medically very safe and has few side effects.
One of the problems with using nanospheres is that they can invade the liver and spleen because any foreign substance that your body doesn’t recognise is sent to the liver to be broken down. However, the researchers noted that the targeted nano-particles completely penetrate the tumor and stay there – very few were found in the liver and spleen of the lab rats.
Senior author of the research paper, Dr Chun Li said that active targeting of nanoparticles to tumors is the holy grail in therapeutic nanotechnology for cancer, and that their research team is one step closer to reaching this goal. Melonoma is the deadliest skin cancer, and one of the deadliest forms of cancer as it spreads very rapidly. Incidence of this cancer is increasing, with one person dying of this disease every hour. Treatment for melanomas has been slow to evolve, until recently the treatment was the same as it was thirty years ago; while treatment for breast and prostate cancer has improved dramatically. The targeted gold nano-spheres will change this, and this treatment can eventually be applied to other cancers.