In 1966, a science fiction film was released about a team of scientists who shrank themselves into molecular sized particles in order to heal a colleague from within his body. Crazy, no?
Well, since then, we’ve seen the development of nanotechnology, a new tool where disease fighting mechanisms are released into the body. Their size? About 100 to 10,000 times smaller than human cells. These smart little machines travel through a patient’s body to the site of a particular problem. Not surprisingly, a very big use of nanotechnology is in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Nanotechnology and cancer detection and treatment is a match that, in the past, was only imaginable in science fiction. Cancer initially happens in formerly undetectable ways at a molecular level. Nanotechnology has the capacity to rapidly detect cancer-causing cells, also at the molecular level. Through the application of molecular contrast agents, nanotechnology can not only detect changes in cells potentially leading to cancer, but can also monitor treatment to ensure that a cancer patient is receiving the correct medicine. Understanding and treating cancer on such a profoundly targeted area of the body can also lead to greater development of individualized therapies.
At this point, most cancer patients receive some combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, all of which can have distressing side effects. The promise of nanotechnology is that the field of targeted treatment, already in process, can be accelerated even more. And as early detection is one significant tool in cancer treatment and cure, nanotechnology can certainly be an important tool in that arena.
How available is nanotechnology for the average cancer patient? Several new nanotechnology drugs have passed the clinical trial stage and are on the market, including Doxil® and Abraxane®. Doxil® has been approved in treatment of AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other solid tumors. Abraxane® is being used in the treatment of advanced breast cancer, advanced non-small lung cancer, and advanced pancreatic cancer. Many other nanotechnologies are in the pipeline as well.
Chalk one up for science fiction predicting real life inventions! I’m still waiting for the transporter myself.