March 22nd, 2010
11:54 AM ET

Nanotech cancer treatment shown to work in humans

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Nanotechnology has been generating a lot of excitement in the cancer research community. Scientists at institutions worldwide have gotten involved in looking at how tiny particles, specially designed to target cancer in the body and treat it, might work better than taking a regular drug. That's because targeted therapies would not harm healthy cells, reducing the toxic side effects seen in chemotherapy drugs.

After decades of work in animal models, there is now evidence that the approach works in humans. A paper published Sunday in the journal Nature shows that nanoparticles can successfully home to proteins associated with cancer progression, deliver medication, and turn off those proteins.

This is the first study to show that this particular method, using a mechanism called RNA interference, works in humans, said Gayle Woloschak, professor of radiology, and cell and molecular biology, at Northwestern University, who was not involved in the study.

But the study, led by Mark Davis at California Institute of Technology, is preliminary. It looked at three patients with melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Because only one of the patients consented to the biopsies due to all of the analysis, the researchers have conclusive evidence that the therapy – and not any previous treatment the patient may have had – was responsible for reducing the cancer-related protein in that patient, Davis said.

But the study showed targeting – that the nanoparticles got inside the tumor cells – in all three patients, Davis said. The more nanoparticles sent into the body, the more of these tiny structures get into the tumor cells, he said.

Although this is a small sample of participants, the study is still very important to show how the new technology works in humans, Woloschak said.

Particles used in this study were about 70 nanometers across, smaller than most viruses, Woloschak said. The therapy was injected directly into the patients' bloodstreams.

Researchers also demonstrated that a large number of different materials can be put together by using nanoparticles as scaffolds. This study used a tumor targeting agent and an anti-cancer therapy, but future possibilities include an imaging agent "so that a tumor can be observed as it is progressing through therapy," she said.

Results from the clinical trial associated with Davis' study will be presented at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

Largely, the idea of targeted nanoparticles as cancer treatments has been shown to work in animals, but not humans. Last year CNNHealth reported on  the buzz on "nanobees," which use this method, as well as other concepts in the works. Read more about that here.

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Mike Eastman

    This medical advance is a consequence of long term funding of basic research in nanomaterials by the National Science Foundation. It is worth noting that many medical advances (another example, magnetic resonance imaging) have their roots in government funded basic research initiated years before practical applications of that reserach were apparent.

    March 22, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. MichaelT

    This sounds so amazing. I read about this is Pop Sci last year. We were hoping human trials would broader. My dad die of pancreatic cancer in Oct and we was hoping he would live long enough for him to be a part of a human trail for something like this. We looked at all treatment trails for 2010 and were hoping some of the trials would be adapted for pancreatic cancer. He lived for 20 months and we just hoped he would hold on a little longer.
    This type of treatment could be a life saver for those who don’t have many choices due to the type of cancer they have.

    March 22, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. mitch baker

    chemotherapy is mentioned. does the possiblity exist for treatment of breast cancer HER2?

    March 22, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. LGLK

    I am a breast cancer patient currently on a clinical trial. I wonder if and when nanotech trials will be available for participation. These things take many years to get to the point of being approved just to be tested, let alone approved by the FDA. If this ends up working, then we are looking at not just a reduction in cancer but a big improvement in the quality of life.

    March 22, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Holden

    Mike Astman Said:
    This medical advance is a consequence of long term funding of basic research in nanomaterials by the National Science Foundation. It is worth noting that many medical advances (another example, magnetic resonance imaging) have their roots in government funded basic research initiated years before practical applications of that reserach were apparent.

    Actually this research was funded first by high net worth individuals and then hedge funds. An initial round of $12MM was raised by the CEO in 2003 with a number of individuals. Two hedge funds provided $16MM to the company in 2004. Fidelity and one of the two hedge funds provided and incremental $15MM and additional capital since that time has bee provided by a mix of high net worth individuals and hedge funds. The present CEO also invested $500k of his own money.

    LGLK...To be involved in a trial you need to have your doctor call one of the doctors running the trial. You cannot contact the company. The cancer centers conducting the trial are as follows: UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California and START in San Antonio, Texas.

    March 23, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mike Eastman

    Response to Holden: Basic research in nanoscience dates back many years before 2003. Many of the techniques to study nanomaterials and many nanomaterials were developed over the past few decades by scientists funded by NSF and private foundations. This anticancer application of nanoscience depends a lot on the work of earlier workers, as does virtually any science advance. My comments shouldn't be regarded as diminishing the importance of this recent work or diminishing the calculated risk assumed by those who funded it ; hopefully they will enjoy a return and patients will benefit. Those who saw the importance of / and supported research in basic nanoscience many years ago should also be recognized.

    March 24, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Richard Vance

      Yes Mike but any treatment that comes along that threatens the status quo and the ripe profits of established practices will be attacked on every and all basis.

      March 6, 2011 at 02:51 | Report abuse |
  7. Richard Vance

    I'm an engineer this makes sense. Kill at the lowest basic level.
    I have early stage prostate cancer confined to prostate. The article does not provide a link to volunteer, where do I sign up?

    March 26, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 6, 2010 at 06:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ab

    Is there a clinical trial for this underway in India? My father has an advance colon cancer and this may be his only chance to fight the aggressive metastatic adenocarcinomas.

    November 13, 2011 at 10:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Shikha Aggarwal

    is dis clinical trial would be succesful in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.....

    November 24, 2011 at 05:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. ramacchandran

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    Hope this will open a new window for research

    August 17, 2012 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. D. Augustine

    What is happening with nanobees? Are they in human trials for cancer yet? I last information available online is dated 2010. Has any progress been made in the last three years? If not – what IS happening?

    August 22, 2013 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Joseph R

    So 5 years later and nothing? Does it work or not? Why is everything so slow.

    June 21, 2015 at 04:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ryan Sakoda

    I would to show you a new form of nanotechnology! Please contact me at 626-688-5737 or at KeijiSakoda@gmail.com. This is for anyone interested in nanoparticles in the human body!

    October 25, 2016 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Robert

    11-17-2017 Can you please send me information on any one in AZ that is doing nanobees technology my phone number is 928-642-0080

    November 18, 2017 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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