Many types of cancer are difficult to treat and remission remains a dream for many patients. For those with mesothelioma, though, there is a long and difficult road with a dismal prognosis. Mesothelioma is one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat, but new developments in nanotechnology for cancer treatment may help give patients more hope.
By Virgil Anderson.
Mesothelioma and Treatment
Mesothelioma is the cancer associated most often with asbestos exposure. People who breathed in the fibers of this mineral, most often in the workplace, are at risk for developing cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that surrounds many of the body’s organs. The most common form of the cancer is pleural mesothelioma, and it attacks the lining of the chest cavity and lungs. Mesothelioma has a long latency period and most people don’t receive a diagnosis until the cancer is in later stages, making treatment problematic and survival unlikely.
Delivering Cancer Treatment with Nanoparticles
An exciting development in nanotechnology research for all types of cancer is the targeted delivery of drugs or other treatment factors. Chemotherapy drugs, for instance, can be encapsulated in a nanoparticle and sent into the body to release its drugs only when it reaches the tumor and cancer cells. This targeting can be achieved with antibodies specific to the cancer cells.
Traditionally, chemotherapy is not very specific. The drugs are injected intravenously and target all fast-growing cells, which results in a lot of uncomfortable and painful side effects. With targeted therapy, the drugs could do their work without harming healthy cells. One group of researchers have even succeeded at tracking the targeting of these particles to cancer cells using fluorescent markers, confirming that the directed particles do get to the tumor.
Nanoparticles and miRNA
Targeted nanoparticles are not restricted to carrying chemotherapy drugs. Researchers are also enclosing genetic factors into these particles and sending them to cancer cells where they insert new genes into the genetic material of the cells. The result, it is hoped, is that by inserting tumor suppressant genes the growth of the cancer cells can be slowed or stopped.
Research into using micro RNA, or miRNA, in nanoparticles is already showing exciting promise. One very interesting case study shows that the strategy may even save the lives of patients with late stage aggressive cancers like mesothelioma. Researchers in Australia recently reported in a journal case study of a patient with late-stage mesothelioma who responded so well to the miRNA treatment that nearly all of the cancer was eliminated. He had already undergone several rounds of chemotherapy that failed to reduce the tumor mass significantly.
Five other patients were involved in the same study. Four of these were able to achieve a stable disease state, while one patient continued to progress. The results are overwhelmingly positive, even though the treatment did not help one patient out of six. The results are also very early and were found using a very small group of patients. The potential for the future treatment of cancers like mesothelioma is enormous, but much more work will need to be done.
The specific miRNA used in this study correlated to a missing gene in the cells of malignant pleural mesothelioma cells. The targeting strategy using nanoparticles and the ability to insert new genetic material has the potential to be specified for other types of cancer, and research and trials are expected to continue.
All cancers are difficult to treat and often impossible to cure or to achieve remission. The promise of nanoparticles used to target cancer cells is important and could lead to a revolution in how mesothelioma and other cancers are treated and even cured.