Cancer nanotechnology is a branch of nanotechnology focused on the applications of both nanomaterial and nanotechnology approaches to the detection and treatment of cancer. Researchers and scientists are currently finding ways to attack cancer on a cellular level. These procedures could mean an end to invasive surgeries and potentially eliminate the need for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
According to a team of researchers affiliated with South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), an already existing targeted drug delivery system has been improved, and could prove to be our most effective weapon in the battle against cancer. Targeted drug delivery system refers to the method that selectively transports drugs to targeted tissues, organs, and cells through a variety of drug carriers. Nanoparticles enter the body by crossing one of its outer layers, either the skin or the lining of the lungs or the intestine. Once inside, the particles will move with the circulation into all the organs and tissues of the body. In prior years, the effects of targeted drug delivery systems have been minimal, mainly due to an occurrence within the body called protein corona phenomenon. This takes place when the human body fights back by attaching blood proteins to the nanoparticles and rendering them virtually ineffective by disrupting their cell targeting abilities.
To counteract protein corona, the research team introduced the protein corona shield (PCS).
"[The PCS] is made up of well-structured special proteins that are highly stable and do not interact with each other.", says Professor Ryu, a member of the UNIST affiliated research team.
These special proteins will essentially act as a disguise while the drug travels through a biological environment. What this basically means is that the targeted drug delivery systems will be able to avoid blood proteins and in turn, reach and effectively destroy cancerous cells.
In the future scientists hope to use nanocarriers to deliver strong drugs such as the chemotherapy agent, gemcitabine, which alone is very effective but causes damage to healthy cells while destroying cancerous cells. Through the use of nanotechnology, gemcitabine would be delivered directly to, and only to, cancerous cells. This procedure would significantly lessen a patient's suffering.
Although nanotechnology is still in its infancy, those in the science and medicine fields hope to uncover its full potential as an alternative to today's methods of surgically removing cancerous tumors and the use of radiation therapy to save a cancer patient's life.