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From Nanoparticles in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer

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Nanoparticles in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer

A nanoparticle is very tiny microscopic particle whose size is measured in nanometers. A nanometer is a measure of length and is equal to 1 billionth of a meter (1 nm = 0.000000001). Often such particles in nanoscale are used in biomedical applications acting as drug carriers or imaging agents. A new study from the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that nanoparticles can soon find its way to diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Researchers from Washington University demonstrated that very small human melanoma tumors growing in mice, which is indistinguishable by usual techniques could be visualized after the mice were injected with the nanoparticles. Despite the ultramicroscopic size of nanoparticles they can carry about 100,000 molecules of the metal used to provide contrast in MRI images. Nanoparticles can be designed to bind to specific sites, and when they bind to these specific sites a high density of contrast agent is produced in this area and this can be easily detected by MRI scans. MRI in this study picked up tumors that were only a couple of millimeters (about one twenty-fifth of an inch).This study presents exciting possibilities. In addition to visualization and imaging using the nanoparticles, these particles could be loaded with drugs that fight cancer, to selectively kill the cancer cells. Since drugs can be delivered specifically to the cancer cells using of this technology would require much smaller doses of cancer fighting drugs than otherwise necessary.

Cancer tissue has to create its own blood supply if it has to grow bigger than few millimeters. This causes growth of tumor blood vessels in a process called tumor angiogensis. In this study the researchers equipped the nanoparticles with them with tiny binding sites that bind only to complementary binding-sites found on cells of the newly forming blood vessels. When the nanoparticles bind to these it revealed the location of the tumors.

Senior author Gregory Lanza, M.D., Ph.D and his colleague Samuel Wickline, M.D., professor of medicine, are co-inventors of this nanoparticles technology. The nanoparticles technology may be ready for use in clinical trials for diagnosis and treatment of human cancer as early as eighteen months.

"One of the best advantages of the particles is that we designed them to detect tumors using the same MRI equipment that is in standard use for heart or brain scans," says Lanza. "We believe the technology is very close to being useful in a hospital setting."

"We can also make these particles so that they can be seen with nuclear imaging, CT scanning and ultrasound imaging. When drug-bearing nanoparticles also contain an imaging agent, you can get a visible signal that allows you to measure how much medication got to the tumor," Lanza says. "You would know the same day you treated the patient and if the drug was at a therapeutic level."

"The other side of that is you have the ability to focus more drug at the tumor site, so the dose at the site might be ten to a thousand times higher than if you had administered the drug systemically," Lanza says.

The nanoparticles also may permit more effective follow up, because a doctor could use them to discern whether a tumor was still growing after radiation or chemotherapy treatments.

This study was specifically used for melanoma, but this technique should be useful for most solid tumors because of the need for these cancers to grow new blood vessels.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and Philips Medical Systems supported this research.

Contact: Jim Dryden
Washington University School of Medicine

Cancer terms:
Lymphatic system: The glands that enlarge in the neck, when you get a fever or infection are called lymph glands. Our body has lymph glands located in many parts of the body including neck, armpit, groin, inside chest, and inside abdomen. The network of lymph glands and the lymphatic vessels that interconnect them constitute the lymphatic system. Lymphatic system plays a very important role in bodys defense against invading organisms and spread of cancer. See cancer terms for more cancer related terms. Nanoparticles in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer

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