How nanotechnology improve cancer care

Stakeholders all over the world are doing everything possible to arrest the widespread effects of cancer. While a lot of efforts are going into preventive measures, there is a lot more happening in research, curative and post-treatment.

Nanotechnology is among growing trends and technologies offering greater opportunities in fighting cancer and improving cancer care. One of the reasons why nanotechnology has been hailed widely is that it makes it possible to destroy cancer tumors while causing minimal damage to surrounding tissues and organs. It has also proven to be effective in the detection and elimination of cancer-causing cells before they develop into tumors. Practically, there are several ways through which nanotechnology is giving cancer care a different approach. Here are some of them.

Nanotechnology in Diagnosis          

An important element in improving cancer care is proper, timely diagnosis. One of the challenges noted with conventional methods of the cancer diagnosis is that in some cases, it might play a role in causing or aggravating cancer. An alternative to these methods is the use of optical nanoparticles in diagnosis. The technique applies the use of special dyes which are made to integrate with tumor cells. Sadoqi Kumar a researcher at the St.John’s University, New York say that a nano particulate drug system can give photographic diagnosis which eliminates the use of conventional diagnostic methods.

The kind of imaging provided by nanotechnology can also be directed specifically to the target and offers an enhanced way of detecting tumor through devices such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomograpraphy (CT). There is also an emergence of nanoscape imaging platforms such as photocoustic tomography (PAT), multimodal imaging and Raman spectroscopic imaging.

Nanotechnology in drug delivery

Cancer treatment is a drug-intensive process that can be enhanced through nanotechnology. The essence here is to improve the performance of pharmacokinetics while reducing the negative effects of the toxins from chemotherapies. Nanotechnology achieves this by selectively targeting and delivering anti-cancer drugs to tumor tissues. Carriers that are built on nanotechnology increase the therapeutic effect of drugs on tumours delivered through the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect. Size is a critical factor in the overall performance of nanotechnology-based therapeutics on tumor tissues.EPR depends on defects that occur in tumor microenvironment which include lymphatic drainage and increased tumor vasculature permeability. The timing and target site of drugs can also be controlled through promoted activities such as ultrasound, pH, temperature as well as chemical composition.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers have reported increased and more efficient levels of drugs delivered to tumors using nanoparticles. The first type of nanoparticles find the location of cancer tumor while the second type(which carries the therapeutic drug) acts on the signal generated by the first type. Other leading organizations helping to advance the use nanotechnology in chemotherapy include the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at the Washington University. All these efforts will be instrumental in helping you find trial for your disease.

Nanotechnology in Immunotherapy

There is an increased interest in the use of nanotechnologies in immunotherapy. There are two ways in which this is being delivered. The first one is where nanoparticles are used to deliver immunostimulatory or immunomodulatory molecules in conjunction with chemo- or radiotherapy or as adjutants to other immunotherapies. The other one involves the development of standalone nanoparticle vaccines which enhance the increase of T cell response in the eradication of tumors.

One of the most widely used immunotherapeutic techniques is use of ex-vivo dendritic cells (DC)-based cancer vaccines. It is still in short supply for clinical patients with only less than 7% available. Nanocarriers can reduce the cumbersome processes of such immunotherapeutic process and instead introduce prolonged and dose-sparing antigen presentation.

Nanotechnology in Chemotherapy

Among the challenges facing traditional chemotherapeutic agents is that they often get engulfed by macrophages and eventually get washed out from the circulation. In other words, they are in circulation for a very short time thus interacting with the cancerous cells only briefly. This, in effect, makes the chemotherapy very ineffective. Poor drug solubility is also a major challenge facing conventional chemotherapy. Insoluble drugs cannot penetrate the biological membranes. Nanotechnology is addressing these challenges at length.

Hyperthermia is among chemotherapy treatments that have been elevated by nanotechnology. In hyperthermia cancerous cells are damaged at temperatures of about 40°C to about 46°C. While this happens, the surrounding healthy cells are able to spatter heat and maintain a normal temperature.

In hyperthermia, nanoparticles serve as the active thermo therapeutic agent’s sensitizers also to target antibody increases efficacy and to reduce side effects related to hypothermia. Since nanoparticles are able to locate and specifically target the deep-seated tissues and organs it becomes efficient and yield better results.

Researchers are also using gold nanorods that are attached to DNA strands and used to deliver drugs on cancer cells. The DNA strands hold together the nanorod and the chemotherapy drug and then Infrared light is used to illuminates the cancer tumor. Eventually, the gold nanorod is translated into an infrared light and turned into heat. This heat helps to release the chemotherapy drug and facilitates the destruction of the cancer cells.

Treatment of pancreatic cancer has received a different approach as researchers at UCLA use two different nanoparticles. The first nanoparticle is used to remove material on the exterior material which inhibits the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to cancer cells. The second nanoparticle delivers the chemotherapy drug. This technique was tested on laboratory mice and the result showed faster shrinkage of the tumors in comparison to other methods.


Nanotechnology has given healthcare providers the opportunity to study and manipulate macromolecules to enhance the results of various stages of cancer treatment. One of the best things is that this manipulation is done in real time and even at the initial earliest stages of cancer, thus giving a better chance of arresting advanced effects. The ability of nanotechnology to provide rapid and sensitive detection of cancer cells enables scientists to detect cell behavior even when they are seen only in a small percentage of cells. Looking into the future, nanotechnology has demonstrated the potential to generate extremely efficient and highly effective therapeutic methods and agents.

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Written by Sagar Mandan

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