Nanoparticle versus Cancer

This post is presented by SBE, the Society for Biological Engineering--a global organization of leading engineers and scientists dedicated to advancing the integration of biology with engineering.

Malignant melanoma in skin biopsy with H&E sta...

Whenever cancer is discussed, a familiar phrase is often heard: the earlier it's caught, the better the chances of survival. Early detection is the next best thing to avoiding cancer altogether, and now researchers are hoping to have discovered a safe, new method of detection that relies on a newcomer in the fight for early detection: the nanoparticle. More specifically, MIT's Tech Review reported last week that researchers are beginning early-stage clinical trials on infrared-emiting nanoparticles that they hope will prove effective in detecting early-stage melanoma.

Tests of the drug in animals have revealed no toxicity, so testing is moving on to humans, with safety tests in five melanoma patients to be completed by year's end. The journal reports details of the planned trials, including those responsible:

The new melanoma-targeting nanoparticles were developed by Ulrich Wiesner, professor of materials science at Cornell. He's worked with a group led by Michelle Bradbury, a radiologist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, to test the nanoparticles in animals. Bradbury is also leading the clinical trial.

The researchers hope to use the nanoparticles to address two major clinical needs. First, they want to use it to develop a therapy that seeks out melanoma tumors. "There's never been a targeted therapy for melanoma," says Bradbury. Melanoma starts on the skin, but when it spreads to other parts of the body, it is invisible and deadly. A targeted therapy would seek melanoma out no matter where it has spread.

The technology, according to the article, is based on a particle which has a silica sphere for a core measuring approximately eight nanometers in diameter. The core is surrounded by an organic dye molecule that emits infrared light. This is then coated with a biocompatible polymer that helps the nanoparticles stick around in the body. The technology was developed more than 10 years ago by Wiesner and a former student, and the nanoparticles are currently being made by Hybrid Silica Technologies. While the particles in the trial are specifically focused on detecting melanoma, the coated nanoparticles can be modified to serve many different purposes.

To read more about this promising new technology, see the full article in MIT's Tech Review.

What other medical applications could you envision for infrared-emitting nanoparticles?