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August 14, 2006

Nanoscale cancer diagnostic and treatment tools

Nanoscale cancer diagnostics being developed for Ovarian cancer At Illinois Institute of Technology, a research team is using an atomic force microscope, a very-high resolution microscope that can investigate the interaction of individual protein molecules. With this microscope the research team can study the molecular structure of cancer versus non-cancer cells and compare the stiffness. Cancer tissues are more stiff than healthy tissues. Instead of removing the ovary to determine if cancerous tissue is present, a probe is currently under development to follow the tissue stiffness in vivo to diagnose cancer.

A second area of research involving nanotechnology uses viral particles as templates to fabricate uniform, nanometer imaging probes and drug carriers. The research team is extracting the DNA from viral particles and replacing it with imaging agents. The goal is to have the viral capsule adhere to a cancer cell and inject the imaging or a therapeutic agent into the cell. This technology could lead to early diagnosis and the development of targeted drug therapy that kills cancer cells while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

"The development of a smart probe and carrier complex will provide significant advantage to the clinicians as they can locate the tumor, monitor the drug delivery vehicle and control drug release using imaging techniques," said Chen.

Another avenue of nanotechnology research at Rush is to develop nanometer sized contrast agents with ultrasound to diagnose ovarian cancer. Such nano ultrasonographic contrast media can pass through the smallest capillaries. These tiny bubbles light up on ultrasound and may be able to show the earliest vascular changes associated with ovarian malignancy. If this is successful, further research will be conducted to study targeted imaging as well as targeted therapy.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth-most common cancer among American women and claims the lives of more North American women each year than all other gynecologic malignancies combined. About 75 percent of patients are not diagnosed until the disease is in its later stages, and current therapies are not effective enough to successfully treat the disease in such advanced stages.

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