A recent study has shown a possible method to help scientists develop a longer lasting and more effective cancer treatment. It involves targeting cancerous cells with nanobubbles which surround and explode the cancer cell.
Why is this needed?
A common cancer treatment is to operate on a patient to remove the cancerous cells. One of the problems with removing cancer cells in this way is that some cells are hard to find or too dangerous to remove with surgery due to their location in the body.
Similarly, some cancer cells can get left behind, especially if they have spread from the main tumor location. As the cells are so incredibly small, surgeons sometimes have great difficulty in removing them all.
The problem with leaving cancer cells in the body is that they can then start to duplicate and cause a reoccurrence of the cancer in the patient, particularly when all other treatments such as chemotherapy have stopped.
However, US scientists have recently trialed a new method for identifying and destroying these errant cancer cells. The method involves hitting gold nanoparticles with a laser to turn them into nanobubbles which are capable of killing cancer cells. It is hoped that these nanobubbles can be used to destroy cancer cells and micro-tumors that would be too risky to remove with surgery, or those that may have been missed during surgery.
How do plasmonic nanobubbles kill cancer?
The nanoparticles are first tagged with specific cancer-fighting antibodies. When they are injected into the bloodstream they are attracted to cancer cells and cluster together inside the cancer cells where they remain dormant until a laser pulse is applied to the tumor.
The laser pulse causes a brief evaporation of liquid which expands the cancer cell and transforms the nanoclusters into nanobubbles. This technique, called plasmon resonance, then uses low doses of X-ray radiation to convert the golden light of the nanobubbles into heat which can physically explode cancer cells.
What were the results of the trials?
The technique was trialed on mice by injecting them with highly aggressive, often lethal cancer cells that cause head and neck tumors. After 24 hours, the mice were operated on to remove the cancer cells. Whereas almost all of the mice treated with traditional surgery died, all of the mice treated with nanobubbles survived with no cancer reoccurrence.
The results also showed that the treatment destroyed many of the residual cancer cells in the mice as they lived significantly longer than the surviving mice who weren’t given the nanobubbles treatment.
What are the limitations of this treatment?
The study only investigated tumors that resided in the head and neck, yet it is believed that this technique could be applied to other cancer/tumor locations. As the initial animal trials on mice showed such promising results, the original researches are now looking to collaborate with other institutions to work towards progressing into human clinical trials.