Nanomedicine and Cancer


Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecological cancer in the United States. The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 22,240 new cases and 14,030 deaths from the disease in 2013.  Researchers at Rutgers University are using new tricks, including nanomedicine, to combat this serious disease.

Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology, which looks at devices and systems at the molecular level. Researchers look at the physical, chemical, and biological properties of materials at the nano scale (one billionth of a meter) in order to develop new modes of treatment including targeted drug delivery and cell regeneration.

Targeted Nanomedicine Shows Promise

Since there is no effective screening method for ovarian cancer, most patients don’t find out they have it until it has already spread to other organs, making the cancer difficult to treat. However, researchers found they could use nanomedicine to target the CD44 protein that is largely to blame for the cancer’s invasiveness.

CD44 is an aberrant protein that aids tumor growth and development of drug resistance to conventional cancer treatment options. Researchers believe this protein is largely to blame for the five-year survival rate of only 30% among patients with advanced-stage ovarian cancer.

To combat this, researchers used small inhibiting RNA molecules to attack the genes of the excess CD44 protein in metastatic ovarian cancer cells. The molecules were delivered by a nanoscale-based drug delivery system (DDS), which included the anticancer drug paclitaxel. This was tested on mice that were injected with tumor tissue from patients to create a form of ovarian cancer resembling that found in humans. After tumors reached about 0.4 cm3 mice were treated eight times, twice per week for 4 weeks.

The results showed the treatment killed cancerous cells, shrank their tumors, and left healthy tissue intact. In addition, it showed that the treatment helped combat side effects often experienced from traditional drug therapies like chemotherapy.

Looking to the Future

The results of this study show promise not only for the treatment of ovarian cancer, but also many other cancers where CD44 is expressed on the surface of cancer stem cells. Researchers propose a cancer-targeted complex chemotherapy approach and a nanocarrier-based delivery system to combine to suppress the invasiveness of and kill the ovarian cancer cells.

Researchers state that “By targeting CD44 in ovarian cancer cells we show proof of principle that targeted nanomedicine is a possible approach to precision therapies.” [Discussion of Study Text]

How do you feel about nanomedicine’s effectiveness in treating advanced ovarian cancer? Do you see this as the treatment of the future, or just an option when chemotherapy and radiation aren’t effective?

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