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Nanomedicine: The Magic Bullet?

by Loren Bonner , DOTmed News Online Editor
This story first appeared in the April 2012 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News

Advances in the field show promise for what seemed like wishful thinking only a century ago.

Glioblastoma, the brain tumor that killed U.S. Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy in
2009, is one of the most common—and most aggressive—types of brain tumor there is. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, a patient’s typical course of treatment is surgery. But tumor removal is a tactile and visual procedure. Oftentimes, a surgeon can’t recognize and remove every single piece of cancerous tissue. In turn, this can cause tumor re-growth in a patient and the causalities that may follow.

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Nanomedicine, or the application of science at the nanometer or molecular scale, has the potential to change this. Using nanotheranostics – a combining of therapeutic and diagnostic techniques in nanomedicine – researchers at Stanford University have developed an imaging technology that specifically detects Glioblastoma cancer cells, along with a novel approach to destroying them.

“We have nanoparticle-based imaging agents that can be injected into tumor sites,” says Dr. Demir Akin, deputy director of Stanford University’s Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence and Translation. “Because tumor sites have leaky blood vessels due to the gaps between the cells, the nanoparticles can go through those gaps.”

According to Akin, paired with infrared light, nanoparticles built to locate and infiltrate cancer cells can be used in an imaging capacity (the diagnostic portion) and since the infrared light is absorbed by the nanoparticles, the tissue containing the particles is, in turn, heated. Ultimately, this leads to the destruction of the metastatic tumor tissue.

“It is impossible to say how many nanomedicine research projects are ongoing globally at the current time, but it is certainly a rapidly expanding field,” says Ruth Duncan, co-author of “Nanomedicine(s) under the Microscope,” which provides a review of the history and evolution of nanomedicines, as well as the emerging opportunities to come.

Duncan says that nanotechnologies are being developed for applications in health care and medicine in several different ways. Nanomedicine can provide new surgical tools and devices that can be used outside the patient, and it can offer biomaterials to aid in tissue repair and drug delivery (often combined with cell therapy). As for disease, innovations are three-fold: diseases can be more accurately imaged and monitored during treatment, and therapies can be individualized and precisely targeted for better outcomes.

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