Nanotechnology exercises mechanisms to design and develop minute devices or particles that can penetrate molecules. These nanoscale particles such as nanopores, dendrimers, nanotubes, quantum dots and nanoshells, are a hundred to 10 thousand times smaller in size as compared to normal human cell. Because of their minute size, these nanotechnology-enabled particles can penetrate the tissues and interact with cell surface proteins and biomarkers. By interacting with proteins and biomarkers these nanotechnology-enabled particles can detect abnormalities. These nanotechnology-enabled devices can also carry drugs to the target cells. The Nanotechnology in the treatment of cancer encompasses the use of nanoparticles to target tumor cells without destroying the healthy cells. These nanoparticles could also be utilized to detect malignant cells, and deliver the drug to the target cells and tissues.
The current interventions in cancer treatment and management involves chemotherapeutic drugs administration that destroys tumor cells. These cytotoxic agents are superior at destroying cancer cells, but the downside of this treatment intervention is that, it also destroys healthy tissues, due to which the patients suffer from hair loss, nausea, weakness, numbness, delayed immune response and other health complications. All these complications arise from the destruction of healthy cells along with tumor cells.
Researchers believe that these adverse effects can be eliminated by delivering the drug to the target tumor tissues, with the help of nanoparticles. Delivery of drug through nanoparticles is advantageous over traditional chemotherapy. These nanoparticles will also protect the agents from systemic degradation before they reach the target tissue. The nanoparticles will also let the oncologist to manage the time and distribution of the cytotoxic agent to the tissue. The absorption of the drug by tumor cells will be enhanced, and the adverse effects of the drug can be limited by the use of nanotechnology.
Passive Nanocarrier Drugs
A number of passive nanocarrier drugs are available in the market today. Due to their size and surface structure these passive nanoparticles can diffuse from blood vessels to the target tumor tissue as a result of enhanced permeability and retention of the drug by these nanoparticles. This property eliminates the chances of effecting healthy cells, thus reducing the adverse effects of the drugs. According to National Cancer Institute Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, researchers are working on designing active nanocarriers that will be able to target the tumor cells directly by attaching to the cell surface protein. These active and passive targeting mechanisms can be combined to achieve optimum action of drug on the target tissue without effecting the healthy cells.
Apart from its use in treatment, nanotechnology can also be used in the diagnosis and screening of cancer. The nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionize the future of cancer treatment. Utilization of nanoparticles like quantum dots will help in prompt detection of tumor cells with the help multiple biomarkers. The photo-signals emitted by quantum dots have the ability to distinguish and detect multiple biomarkers at the same time by the mechanism of photoluminescence. This will not only aid in screening of cancer but it will also facilitate the treatment process by differentiating target cells from healthy cells.
Although this concept is still in the research phase, but a number of passive nanotechnology based drugs are already being successfully used in cancer treatment. A number of nanoparticle-formulations have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in clinical trials for cancer treatment. These nanotechnology-enabled diagnostic and treatment interventions will transform the management of cancer, when they will successfully pass the clinical trial phase and will be applied in oncology practice.
Keywords: nanotechnology, cancer, tumor, nanoparticle