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Posted: Mar 14, 2012
Fighting cancer with nanotechnology - a roundtable discussion
(Nanowerk News) Imagine a test that sifts through millions of molecules in a drop of a patient's blood to detect a telltale protein signature of a cancer subtype, or a drug ferry that doesn't release its toxic contents until it slips inside cancer cells.
These and other nanotechnologies could be game changers in how we diagnose, monitor and treat cancer. To more fully understand the impact, The Kavli Foundation held a roundtable teleconference with four pioneers in the field.
Above (clockwise from top left): Anna Barker, Mark E. Davis, Michael Phelps, James Heath.
Anna Barker - Former Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and current Director of Arizona State University's Transformative Healthcare Networks;
Mark E. Davis - Professor of Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and a member of the Experimental Therapeutics Program of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the City of Hope;
James Heath - Professor of Chemistry at Caltech and a founding Board member of Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute;
Michael Phelps - Norton Simon Professor, and Chair of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles.
The researchers discussed how nanotechnology holds the promise of revolutionizing the way medicine wages war against cancer, from providing new ways to combine drugs to delivering gene-silencing therapeutics for cancer cells. "What's really exciting to me is the patient evidence that reveal nanoparticles are actually going into tumor cells and releasing their payloads," said Davis. "[We're also] starting to see preliminary evidence that these therapies are having some effects in patients while also giving them a high quality of life."
Another promising technology is PET molecular imaging probes, which can rapidly search for cancer throughout all tissues of the body, as well as characterize each cancer lesion it detects within an individual patient. "All cancer treatments are in need of better molecular diagnostics... to better characterize the biology of cancer," said Phelps.
These technologies add a layer of precision, insight and invention to cancer treatment that can be transformative. Said Heath, "Nanotechnology is an amazing discovery tool ...giving us a new set of eyes that are opening up a whole new world." Regarding the future, he added, "All evidence suggests that when you do careful engineering of these nanotechnologies, the benefits are great." Barker agreed. "The nanotechnologies that are currently in use in the cancer community are actually making cancer therapies safer. They are uniformly increasing the efficiency, while reducing the toxicity for patients."