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Mesothelioma and nanotechnology may be a promising combination for patients with this rare and aggressive disease. Micro images may help diagnose mesothelioma earlier, while nanoparticles show promise in targeting mesothelioma tumors directly with chemotherapy drugs. On the other hand, some nanotechnology particles may contribute to the development of mesothelioma.
What Is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is a broad term for devices less than 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is incredibly tiny, measuring only one billionth of a meter.
How Is Nanotechnology Used in Medicine?
Currently, nanotechnology is useful in all areas of science, including medicine. Tiny molecular devices treat degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
They are also used for dental surgery, tissue engineering, fighting antibiotic resistance, and for cancer treatment, including mesothelioma.
Can Nanotech Help with Cancer?
Medical and technology researchers are also working with nanotechnology to improve outcomes for cancer patients. Nanotechnology could improve cancer diagnosis. It could also improve treatments by making therapies more targeted or by directly treating cancer.
An Earlier Mesothelioma Diagnosis with Nano Images
Because mesothelioma is tough to identify, it is often diagnosed in its later stages after it has metastasized. Many patients first receive a diagnosis of a more common illness like pneumonia or lung cancer before learning they have mesothelioma. Accurate diagnostic methods will lead to earlier diagnoses and potentially save more lives.
The nanotech firm CytoViva worked with German researchers to use nano-imaging for rapid, early, accurate mesothelioma diagnoses:
- Hyperspectral imaging is used to take tiny images of tissue samples, which are put together to make an image with ultra-high contrast. Each image is less than 100 nanometers across.
- They used images from thirty different patients to create an image library.
- Researchers use the library to compare samples of diagnosed and undiagnosed patients. If a patient’s tissue sample matches one in the library, they could be diagnosed with mesothelioma or another specific cancer.
- The researchers tested this technique using samples of tissues already diagnosed and ran them through the image library.
- The results were quick and accurate.
Nanotechnology Particles to Deliver Targeted Mesothelioma Treatment
Because these toxic drugs are injected and circulated through the entire body, they are not very specific; instead, they target any living cells that grow and divide rapidly. Because healthy cells are affected along with cancer cells, chemotherapy causes uncomfortable and unhealthy side effects. Targeting cancer cells directly could eliminate those side effects.
Delivering microRNA to Mesothelioma Tumors
Early research is promising. One Australian patient even seems to have been cured using nanotechnology.
Researchers used nanoparticles containing microRNA injected into the body and directed toward tumors by targeted antibodies. These guided the particles to the tumor while ignoring other tissues. Once at the tumor, the particles released the microRNA into cancer cells, inserting new genes to inhibit growth.
Researchers are testing this nanoparticle treatment against different types of cancers with various medicines.
One recent study used nanoparticles to deliver targeted chemotherapy treatment to cancer cells. Researchers visually proved its success using a special molecule alongside the nanoparticles, and chemotherapy drugs fluoresced green when cancer cells died. This process confirmed the drugs reached the tumor and killed cancer cells.
Nanoparticle treatment for cancer, including mesothelioma, is an exciting and ongoing line of research. Each new study shows more promise. It may not be long before this becomes a standard treatment for cancer patients.
Immunotherapy is another promising area of treatment for mesothelioma and other cancers. These are therapies that harness the patient’s immune system to fight and kill cancer cells. Some therapies have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Researchers from the University of North Carolina discovered that using two different immunotherapy drugs at the same time could be more effective. Delivering them together proved challenging, though.
The researchers used nanoparticles to tie the two drugs together and deliver them to the tumors. While this research has not yet reached human trials, laboratory and animal studies show the treatment could be more effective than delivering one treatment alone.
Improved Nanoparticle Delivery for Mesothelioma
Delivery of treatment to pleural mesothelioma cells is difficult because of how this cancer grows. Rather than one solid mass that can be removed surgically, mesothelioma grows as small lesions like a sheet over the lungs.
Although nanotechnology is improving targeted treatments, delivering nanoparticles to the entire malignant area is still a challenge. A group of researchers recently came up with a potential solution.
They created a surface-fill hydrogel (SFH) that once applied to the pleural cavity can deliver nanoparticles with treatment. The SFH is sprayed onto all surfaces in the chest during surgery or as a standalone treatment. It then can change shape and adapt to fill all spaces and cover surfaces to better deliver the treatment.
Four preclinical studies of this method have already shown that SFH with nanoparticles could be an effective treatment for mesothelioma.
Gold Nanotubes Destroy Mesothelioma Cells
While much of nanotechnology cancer research has focused on using it to deliver other treatments, one study used nanoparticles as the actual treatment for mesothelioma.
In 2020, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Leeds reported a new strategy for treating mesothelioma with nanotubes made of gold. They created tubes to absorb a specific wavelength of light.
When introduced to mesothelioma cells in the lab, the cells absorbed them readily. The researchers then shone laser light of the right wavelength on the cells. The nanotubes absorbed the light, rose in temperature, and killed the cells.
This research has not been used in a living animal or humans yet, but it shows promise for the future development of nanotechnology treatments.
Ongoing Nanotechnology Research
Because nanotechnology holds such promising potential in cancer treatment, many research institutes are investing in its use:
- At the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, researchers are using nano-sized biochips to test drug efficacy on cancer cells and deliver individualized treatments.
- The main goal of the Penn Center for Orphan Disease Research and Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania is to develop and test nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery. The center recently received a $10 million gift toward that goal.
- New York University’s Langone Medical Center is working with high-tech equipment called a NanoString Technologies nCounter Analysis System. This cutting-edge technology will help researchers investigate cancer treatment with nanotechnology.
Some Nanotechnology May Contribute to Mesothelioma
Nanotechnology holds great promise for treating diseases like mesothelioma; however, some of these microscopic particles may also cause harm.
According to research, nanotubes may cause damage when inhaled. This damage could be similar to that caused by airborne asbestos fibers. Studies show these long, thin tubes resemble asbestos fibers, act like asbestos fibers, and could cause asbestos-like illnesses like mesothelioma.
Discovered only a few decades ago, nanotubes have many properties that make them a wonder material. This is eerily similar to asbestos, which once held the same promise. Lightweight like plastic, nanotubes are stronger than steel.
Asbestos was once prized for its light weight and the strength it added to other materials. Nanotubes have been used in research to produce batteries and electronics, engineering structures, and medicine.
A study that compared nanotubes to asbestos found the particles caused damage in mice similar to that seen with asbestos fibers. Although it is not likely that nanotubes will often become airborne, the study warrants some concern.
Nanotechnology has great potential in medical care and will require ongoing research before being used widely. Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer that is difficult to treat and often fatal. Patients have little hope of survival because it is so aggressive and is usually diagnosed in later stages.
Nanotechnology could address both issues. While more research is necessary, these technological advances could help make mesothelioma diagnoses more accurate and advance treatments for this awful disease.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.