We are in such an exciting age right now, where medicine is finally opening its doors to not only natural products and the benefits of traditional remedies, but also allowing some really fantastic research from other fields to impact our health. For example, today I read about new research being done in the field of nanotechnology, where researchers have identified a way to use magnetic nanoparticles to help escort cancer cells out of the body.
Scientists at Georgia Tech have developed a potential new treatment against cancer that attaches these particles to cancer cells, allowing them to be captured. The treatment, which has been tested in the laboratory and will now be looked at in survival studies, is detailed online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
"We've been able to use magnetic nanoparticles to capture free-floating cancer cells and then take them out of the body," said John McDonald, chair of the School of Biology at Georgia Tech and chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute. "This technology may be of special importance in the treatment of ovarian cancer where the malignancy is typically spread by free-floating cancer cells released from the primary tumor into the abdominal cavity.”
It was actually a PhD student at Georgia Tech who had the original concept. Ken Scarberry, who is doing his PhD studies in Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, conceived of the idea as a means of extracting viruses and virally infected cells from the body. His advisor, Chemistry professor John Zhang, had another idea. He asked if the technology could be applied to cancer. Scarberry then suggested it might be an effective means of preventing cancer cells from spreading.
They began by testing the therapy on mice. After attaching these magnetic particles to the cancer cells in the mice, they were able to apply a magnet and move the green cancer cells to the abdominal region.
“If the therapy is able to pass further tests that show it can prevent the cancer from spreading from the original tumor,” Scarberry said, “it could be an important tool in cancer treatment.”
Existing biotechnology uses antibodies to fight cancer, but there is often an immune response which can halt the progress. In this magnetic nanoparticle process a unique peptide-targeting strategy is used, and the composition of the magnetic nanoparticles does not appear to create an immune response.
"If you modify the nanoparticle and target it directly to the tumor cells using a small peptide, you are less likely to generate an undesirable immune response and more accurately target the cells of interest,” said Research Scientist Erin Dickerson.
The research team is collaborating with other groups at Georgia Tech on this method and other interesting ideas. We may soon have new tools at our disposal in the clinic for treating certain cancers, thanks to the ideas of this student and his Professor.