Cancer has been notoriously difficult to treat with the procedures to heal a person being restricted to chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. However, with the emergence of new therapies such as Nanomedicine (the medical application of nanotechnology), this may no longer have to be the case.
An ideal nanoparticle would contain a targeting agent, an imaging agent and the actual drug, we however are not there yet. Nanomedicine will allow for nanoparticles to drug the target area through the use of a sensor that will tell it when to release the drug when it encounters it. Cancer treatments usually result in numerous detrimental side effects but if you were able to target an area this minimises the damage to the rest of the body and the healthy cells. Nanomedicine essentially enables the medication to differentiate between healthy and diseased cells.
Targeted drug delivery is when a nanoparticle will have a drug either inside it or on it. Targeted drug delivery means that most of the drug can reach the intended areas as opposed to 99% of drugs that never reach the tumour in conventional cancer therapies. Nanoparticles also allow drugs to circulate in the body for longer, giving them more time to find the intended cell. A cancerous tumour has particular receptors and the peptide antagonist (allows the nanoparticle to bind onto the tumour receptor) on the nanoparticle will adhere to it, so it can then administer the drug directly to the cell. Researchers hypothesize that nanoparticles need to be PEGylated (attachment of a polyethylene glycol polymer chain) to optimize the process so proteins don't cover the nanoparticle and they can still target specific cells effectively.
Some kinds of nanoparticles are designed to starve out the tumour and shrink it by removing its blood supply. This is done by attaching an enzyme called thrombin to the surface of the nanoparticle; this clots the blood in the vessels which leads to the tumour. This results in the tumour tissue dying. Research so far has shown this process and technology to be safe and effective.
There is also research into using RNA nanodiscs and aptamers (like the peptide antagonist mentioned earlier) which destroy the tumours when put into a magnetic field. You can watch a video of it being done to a mouse in the RT documentary on ‘Biomedical advances that will change the human body’.
As promising as Nanomedicine is, it will be years from now for the technology to be available. First researchers need to create a cost-effective way of producing enough material to test it on. Researchers also have to consider that the nanoparticles work the way they’re meant to as opposed to just looking at the end product to observe the outcome as this is a much more complex process.
Here are some of the links I collated information from in case you would like to read in more depth.