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Nanomedicine has demonstrated the possibility of targeted drug delivery to tumor cells. Nanoparticles are extensively exploited to create drug-delivery platforms that carry anticancer drugs while ensuring safety to healthy tissues.

Cancer is one among the leading causes of mortality worldwide. Most of the deadliest cancers are diagnosed only at the advanced stages. Some cancers like breast cancer, cervical cancer and oral cancers can be detected at early stages and managed with effective treatment. Some forms of cancer are completely curable and some are even preventable.

In treating most of the cancers, chemotherapy is often used alongside other treatments to prevent or delay the recurrence of disease. In advanced cancers, chemotherapy is used to slow down the progression of the disease or just to alleviate the symptoms.

Being diagnosed with cancer is never easy for anyone. Debilitating effects of chemotherapy carry an additional burden. Of course, this mode of treatment saves many people’s lives, but the side effects of chemotherapy such as hair loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, mouth ulcers and digestive problems are at times more distressing than the cancer itself.

Means to avoid the undesirable side effects of anti-cancer drugs

The reason for the side effects of chemotherapy is rather simple. Chemotherapeutic anti-cancer drugs target cells that actively grow and divide. Fast growth is a characteristic feature of tumor cells. However, some normal healthy cells like the cells in hair follicles, cells of bone marrow, cells lining the mouth and intestine also have this feature. The injected chemotherapeutic drugs can literally reach any part of the body and target the rapidly proliferating cells which, unfortunately, include the normal ones as well. In order to limit their action on cancer cells and spare the healthy cells, a more sophisticated platform of chemotherapeutic drug delivery is needed.

Extensive research and studies have been conducted to overcome the limitations and adverse effects of cancer therapeutics.

In recent years, scientists have proved through extensive research that nanotechnology, which has created great impacts in many industries, from clothing to cosmetics, can contribute to one of the most revolutionary advancements in cancer management.

Using nano-particles, researchers are developing several targeted drug delivery platforms to reduce the assault on normal tissues to the minimum.

Nanotechnology provides multiple advantages in cancer treatment

Over the last two decades, researchers have extensively exploited nanotechnology to develop various nano-sized therapeutic and diagnostic agents, especially for cancer management. There are several reasons why researchers are focused on these tiny particles for targeted drug delivery:

1.       The ultra-small size of the nano-particles enables them to escape clearance by kidneys.

2.      They easily permeate through the abnormally leaky blood vessels of tumor tissues and accumulate inside the cells.

3.      Their high surface area increases their loading capacity for therapeutic and imaging agents.

Another advantage in using nano-particles as drug carriers is that these particles are not recognized by P-glycoproteins, the surface transporters, of tumor cells. These transporters wash away the anti-cancer drugs preventing them from accumulating inside the cancer cells. This leads to drug resistance.

All these characteristics coupled with the ability of nano-particles to perform multifunctional tasks are the vital features that a highly targeted chemotherapeutic drug delivery system is in need of. No wonder that scientists think that these tiny particles are going to revolutionize cancer treatment.

The recent research is yet another attempt to blend the diagnostic and therapeutic modalities of cancer management.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Wang, L., Chuang, M. & Ho, J. A. (2012) Nanotheranostics – a review of recent publications. Int J Nanomedicine 7, 4679-4695
  • Cho, K. et al. (2008) Therapeutic nanoparticles for drug delivery in cancer. Clinical Cancer Research 14(3), 1310
  • Croissant, J. et al. (2014) Two-Photon-Triggered Drug Delivery via Fluorescent Nanovalves. Small. Early Online Publication
  • Sumer, B. & Gao, J. (2008) Theranostic Nanomedicine for Cancer. Nanomedicine 3(2), 137-140
  • Kim, T. H., Lee, S. & Chen, X. (2013) Nanotheranostics for Personalized Medicine. Expert Review of Molecular Diagnostics 13(3), 257-269.
  • Photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute News & Public Affairs by Flickr :
  • Photo courtesy of KristianMolhave by Wikimedia Commons :

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