Two years ago, researchers at Rice University began working on an innovative, unique way to treat particularly aggressive forms of cancer (like head, neck or brain cancer), which are often resistant to both drugs and chemotherapy.
To make the problem worse, cancerous tissue is often interlaced with healthy tissue, making it difficult to remove all of the cancer through surgery.
So a team of researchers, led by Biochemistry and Cell Biology professor Dmitri Lapotko, designed an ingenious 3-step treatment that will allow doctors and oncologists to treat these difficult cancers in a new way.
The process is known as quadrapeutics because of its use of four components: encapsulated drugs, colloidal gold nanoparticles, short laser pulses and X-rays. The success of the new procedure’s first preclinical trials was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine.
In the first step, a proven cancer drug is encapsulated and then tagged with an antibody that specifically targets cancer cells. Because of this antibody, the drugs will cluster around the cancer cells.
The second step involves colloidal gold nano-particles. A colloidal is basically a liquid or gel which allows the microscopic gold particles to travel smoothly through the bloodstream.
These nano-particles are also tagged with cancer targeting antibodies, so when a cancerous cell is found, the antibody on the colloidal will latch onto the cell and inject the envelope of gold nano-particles into it, as is illustrated below.
In the third step, infrared laser pulses are delivered to the tumor. This laser pulse causes the colloidal gel that encases the gold nano-particles to rapidly evaporate and expand into a tiny bubble known as a plasmonic nanobubble. This bubble then bursts, creating a mini explosion inside the cancer cell.
The explosion blows an opening in the cell wall, allowing the drugs that accumulated around the cell in the first step to rush inside of it.
The final step is to aim a very low dose of X-ray radiation at the tumor. The gold nano-particles, which are still in the cancer cells, amplify the effect of the radiation within the cells, allowing the treatment to deliver high doses of radiation to the cancerous cells while exposing healthy cells to only very low doses of radiation.
The combination of all of these methods and technologies led to,
“…a 100-fold amplification of the therapeutic strength of standard chemoradiation in experiments on cancer cell cultures,”
according to Lapotko. The method was so effective that the treatment only required between 2-6% of the typical clinical doses of drugs and X-rays.
The video below explains the process more and also has awesome footage of the treatment at work. The second video delves a bit deeper into the technology of nanobubbles and gold nano-particles which allows chemotherapy to be brought into the actual cancer cells.
(h/t IFL Science)