ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Health»
  • Diseases, Disorders & Conditions»
  • Cancer

How nanotechnology has been applied to cancer treatment

Updated on August 3, 2010

Nanotechnology and health sciences

In this article I hope to explain, in ordinary everyday English the term nanotechnology and how this science is applied to health and medicine.

Applied Nanotechnology Science and Medicine

I recently watched a program on cancer treatment and applied nanotechnology. What I came away with is this may be a whole new model for cancer research.

The program was carefully crafted and organized in such a way that the application of nanotechnology in medicine in general and as a form of cancer treatment in particular was easily explained.

Chemotherapy Background: Chemotherapy, the use of toxins to destroy cancer cells, has a long history dating back to the early 1920s. The problem with Chemo is that it not only destroys cancer cells it also attacks healthy ones. The effects can be so debilitating that some chemo patients lose their appetites along with their hair. Some have even reported that the chemo seemed worse than the cancer.

The toxins used in these drugs are known to inhibit cell growth A.K.A. mitosis. Since cells have a natural life-cycle inhibiting growth also means the eventual death of cancers.

Unfortunately the toxins used also affect other fast growing cells such as hair and the intestinal lining.

The trick, of course, is to inhibit the growth of fast growing cells just long enough to destroy the cancer.

The Other Problem with Chemo: Since chemotherapy drugs are molecules and molecules can cross through blood vessel walls they tend to spread throughout the patients body causing systemic problems nearly everywhere. These problems crop up as low white blood cell counts and can also reduce liver function and hamper kidney function. Without proper monitoring chemo can quite literally destroy these organs.

The molecules that make up these toxins are in the sub-nanometer scale.

Cancer & Blood vessel growth: It has been known for quite some time now that many cancers are capable of telling the body they need more blood. How this "instruction" is given and carried out isn't completely understood though some therapies attempt to take advantage of this by targeting blood vessel growth.

This "directive" is reflected in the extraordinary number of blood vessels often found feeding cancerous growths. Fortunately these blood vessels are different than normal ones; they tend to have holes and gaps in the vessel walls that aren't found in normal blood vessels.

Since these rouge blood vessels feed directly into cancerous cells taking advantage of their leaky nature could be yet another way to attack the growths.

Nanoparticles are larger than most molecules: A nanoparticle, being on the scale of 1 to 100 billionth of a meter, is still a larger "particle" than a molecule. After all, nanoparticles are typically a collection of molecules.

Mark E. Davis and Insert Therapeutics;

One Example of Applied Nanotechnology in Health Sciences

How the Delivery System was Created: Mark and his wife had gone through a harrowing cancer experience ten years earlier. She had breast cancer and it was spreading. A course of chemotherapy was prescribed and during one of her many sessions she implored her husband to find a better way to deliver the necessary drugs.

"You are a CalTech scientist; you people solve much bigger problems all the time. Do something about this."

So as his wife was getting one of her many weekly doses of chemotherapy Mark, a chemical engineer, would be in the hospital library studying medical literature on cancer.

As Mark later related he was "way out of my comfort zone."

He noticed a few things though and consulted with his wife's doctor.

After discussing what he learned with the doctor Mark felt he had hit on a novel approach to targeted drug delivery.

What he didn't know it would take ten years to develop the drug.

He knew if he could create a nanoparticle too large to pass through normal blood vessel walls, but small enough to pass through cancerous blood vessel holes he'd have a targeted delivery method. The trick would be to find a compound that would form itself into the 40 nanometer diameter balls. The compound would also have to be able to surround the toxic chemical.

If he could do that the nanoparticle would naturally end up at the site of cancerous cells which would promptly take up the starchy compound and the toxin right along with it.

Cyclodextrin nano-particle without the Camptothecin toxin.
Cyclodextrin nano-particle without the Camptothecin toxin.


Nanotechnology: A research and applied science that deals with physical objects that are from one to one hundred nanometers in size.

Nanometer: One billionth of a meter. 1/1,000,000,000.

Nanoscale: Objects that are from on billionth of a meter to one ten millionth of a meter. Or 1 to 100 nanometer sized objects.

Cyclodextrin is the name of the sugar polymer Mark created and camptothecin the toxic drug encapsulated in the nanoparticle. The drugs is named IT101 and it is delivered intravenously.

Phase I Trials: Phase I trials ran for six months. After two months of clinical trials on a particular patient with lung cancer the growth of new lesions was completely arrested. After six months MRI scans showed void (or holes) in the larger cancer clusters indicating cancer cell death.

At no time did the patient suffer from any side effects. Since the phase one trial has concluded at last mention he was continuing to get this therapy via a compassionate use program.

The Phase I trial concluded in June of 2006.

Phase II Trials: Since the Phase I trials showed such promise Phase II trials are ongoing. This trial involves roughly one hundred people. Since the trial is current no data or results have been published thus far. As of July 2010 this is still the case.

Summary: Because a chemical engineer's wife implored her husband to "find a better way" nanoscale engineering has been put to use in a novel approach to chemotherapy. A nanoparticle surrounding a toxin is used to target the delivery of that toxin directly to the cancer via the cells unique characteristic of blood vessel formation.

I'm not about to propose that this is the magic bullet we've all hoped for in cancer treatment, but the I don't think the potential can be denied.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    gudiya 7 years ago

    what are the applications of nanotechnology ? In terms / points .

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    ashok: A little more research found The City of Hope National Medical Center. This is where Insert Therapeutics did it's trials. Insert Therapeutics is now Calando Pharmaceuticals, Inc. They are continuing Davis' research with silencing RNA (or RNA interference [RNAi]) technology.

    The web-address for the hospital is;

    The hospital is in Durate, California.

    The web-address for Calando Phramaceuticals is;

    They are in Pasadena California.

    I hope this helps you. If there is anything else I can find out for you please do not hesitate to ask.

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    ashok: Those trials are over.

    However I would start by looking for Mark E. Davis, professor at California Institute of Technology. He created this therapy and is continuing to research nano sized particles for drug delivery and cancer treatment.

  • profile image

    ashok babu 7 years ago

    please tell me the hospital who giving this treatment

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    My covering Davis was a complete accident. But when I found out that he had actually used nano-technology to create a real drug delivery system I felt it rated a hub.

  • lxxy profile image

    lxxy 7 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

    Link back: of course.

    Wanna see the doc? :)

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Ixxy: Wow! Really?

  • lxxy profile image

    lxxy 7 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

    I just watched an episode all about nanotechnology on an awesome sauce site...anyway, this was actually in it.

    Great stuff! I'll link back when I do my article on nano technology in general. :)

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Forty years ago I worked as an orderly on a surgical ward. It was almost exclusively bypass surgery. At the time it was cutting edge. Dr. DeBaky's heart-lung machine was considered a technological marvel and surgeon's prided themselves on speed and precise technique.

    Still about 50% of those undergoing the surgery died. Fifty percent!!! It was such a horrible death rate, that while I was there, the surgeon did his best to keep the patient alive long enough to rush him/her to ICU. At least that way they didn't "die on the table."

    To say that those techniques have improved is an understatement. Now it can even be done through three small holes.

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Pure Medical Research is one of those things that needs government funding in conditional loans and grants. Companies CAN BE good at this sort of thing, but a corporate charter always dictates that a profit be made. This means that "fringe" diseases and ailments within a low percentage of the population will not be good candidates for research with "for profit" companies.

  • profile image

    KellyEngaldo 8 years ago

    Great article. We need to further understand technology and we need more medical research. I often contend that IF it weren't for medical research and I was born 10 years earlier, I would not be alive. I had open heart surgery in 1976. It has always been risky but the risks are so much lower today and the complete hospital stay is the same as the days I spent in intensive care. Any suggestions on just pure medical research?

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks Kim. I was very impressed with Mark E. Davis' discoveries. He did this for all the right reasons and he's not even a medical doctor. I'll be writing a hub about his latest techniques soon.

  • profile image

    Kim Garcia 8 years ago

    Wow!! Thanks for posting this about nanotechnology. Extremely enlightening!!

    I agree with you concerning Chemotherapy and the liver functioning properly.

    Chemo would be killer on someone with systemic Candidiasis. Peace ~ K

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Mathan42: I can only imagine. Since particle size also determines color retention reflection, I can see this applied to pigments. Cosmetics will benefit from finer and finer ingredients powders, creams, and lotions. Medicine could benefit not only from the type of application above, but it should be possible to create drugs that aren't taken up by and expelled by the liver quite so soon simply by making them "too big" until they are broken down where they need to work.Material science would benefit with stronger steel, aluminum, and other alloys.

    Certainly there are other branches of science that are just starting to explore what more can be done with such fine control over molecule size.

  • mathan42 profile image

    mathan42 8 years ago

    I am just interested in nanotechnology.I wonder how this technology can be put to use in all walks of life.This page was quite useful in making me clear about advent of nanotechnology in field of cancer,a dreadful can also check out my page for basic information about nanotechnology at