Although nanomedicine has been very successful, some researchers have been disappointed with its low overall performance in cancer

Nanoparticles can help cancer drugs strengthen tumors and avoid damaging healthy cells. Library of Scientific Photos via Getty Images

If you hear the word “nanomedicine,” it may be reminiscent of scenarios like in the 1966 film. Fantastic journey. The film depicts a team of medics shrunken to travel on a microscopic robotic ship through a person’s body to clear a blood clot in his brain.

Nanomedicine has not yet reached such a level of excellence. Although scientists can create nanomaterials less than a few nanometers – “nano”, which shows one billionth of a meter – modern nanotechnology has failed to create functional electronic robotics, small enough to safely enter the bloodstream. But since the concept of nanotechnology was first introduced in the 1970s, it has found its mark in many everyday products, including electronics, fabrics, food, water and air treatment, cosmetics and medicines. Given these advances in various fields, many medical researchers have wanted to use nanotechnology to diagnose and treat diseases.

Although nanomedicine has achieved much success, some researchers have been disappointed with its low overall performance in cancer. To better transfer success in the laboratory to clinic treatment, a new way to develop cancer drugs using nanomaterials has been proposed. With this strategy, a treatment was developed that was able to achieve complete remission in mice with metastatic breast cancer.

While nanomedicine – no Fantastic journeyhe shares the purpose of the film’s treatment – to deliver the medicine exactly where it needs to be.

What is nanomedicine?

Nanomedicine refers to the use of nanoscale materials for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Some researchers determine that nanomedicine covers any medical device using nanomaterials smaller than 1,000 nanometers. Others more narrowly use this term to refer to injectables using nanoparticles smaller than 200 nanometers. Anything larger can be dangerous to inject into the bloodstream.

Several nanomaterials have been used successfully in vaccines. The best-known examples today are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. These vaccines used nanoparticles of lipids or fatty acids that help carry mRNA to where it needs to pass in the body to elicit an immune response.

Researchers have also successfully used nanomaterials in diagnosis and medical imaging. Rapid tests for COVID-19 and pregnancy tests use gold nanoparticles to form a colored band, which means a positive result. Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, often uses nanoparticles as contrast agents to help make the image more visible.

Gold is one of the types of nanoparticles that researchers are testing in different contexts.

Several nanoparticle-based drugs have been approved for the treatment of cancer. Doxil (doxorubicin) and Abraxane (paclitaxel) are chemotherapeutic drugs that use nanomaterials as a delivery mechanism to increase treatment effectiveness and reduce side effects.

Cancer and nanomedicine

The potential of nanomedicine to increase drug efficacy and reduce its toxicity is attractive to cancer researchers working with anticancer drugs that often have strong side effects. Indeed, 65 percent of clinical trials using nanoparticles focused on cancer.

The idea is that nanoparticle cancer drugs can act as biological missiles that destroy tumors while minimizing damage to healthy organs. Because blood vessels leak in tumors, researchers believe this will allow nanoparticles to accumulate in tumors. Conversely, because nanoparticles can circulate in the blood longer than traditional cancer treatments, they may accumulate less in healthy organs and reduce toxicity.

Although these design strategies have been successful in mouse models, most nanoparticle cancer drugs have not been shown to be more effective than other cancer drugs. In addition, while some nanoparticle-based drugs may reduce toxicity to some organs, they may increase toxicity to others. For example, while Doxil-based nanoparticles reduce heart damage compared to other chemotherapy options, it may increase the risk of hand-foot syndrome.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have sparked admiration for the potential use of nanomedicine in other diseases.

A bright but realistic future for nanomedicine

The success of some drugs that use nanoparticles, such as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, has caused excitement among researchers and the public about their potential use in treating a variety of other diseases, including talk of a future cancer vaccine. However, a vaccine against an infectious disease is not the same as a vaccine against cancer. Cancer vaccines may require different strategies to overcome resistance to treatment. Injecting a nanoparticle-based vaccine into the blood also has other problems than when administered intramuscularly.

Although the field of nanomedicine has made significant progress in obtaining drugs or diagnosing from laboratory to clinic, there is still a long way to go. Studying past successes and failures can help researchers develop breakthroughs that allow nanomedicine to live up to its promises.

This article is republished with The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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