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Mesothelioma and Nanotechnology

Mesothelioma is an aggressive, usually fatal cancer with a negative prognosis when diagnosed. It begins in the mesothelium tissue, usually in the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. This kind of mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and is hard to treat.

But advances in nanotechnology may give hope to patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. Tiny images are being used to diagnose the illness earlier, while nanoparticles show promise in targeting delivery of effective drugs to tumors. Ironically, some nanotechnology particles may actually be harmful and 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 one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology is being used in all areas of science, including medicine. Tiny, molecular devices are used in medicine to treat degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for dental surgery, in tissue engineering, in fighting antibiotic resistance, and against cancers, including mesothelioma.

An Earlier Diagnosis with Nano Images

Because mesothelioma is tough to identify, it is often diagnosed in its later stages, when it has already spread. Many patients are misdiagnosed with more common illnesses like pneumonia or lung cancer before learning they have mesothelioma. More accurate diagnosis will lead to earlier diagnoses and may save lives because those patients will qualify for aggressive treatments.

Nanotech firm CytoViva worked with researchers in Germany to use nano-imaging for rapid, early, more accurate diagnoses of mesothelioma. 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.

Researchers used images from thirty different patients as an image library to compare to samples from 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 that had already been diagnosed and ran them through the image library. The results were quick and accurate.

Nanotechnology Particles to Deliver Treatment

Early, accurate diagnosis is a great start, but better treatments are needed too. Could nanotechnology deliver better and more effective treatments with fewer side effects? Early research is promising, and in Australia, at least one patient seems to have been cured of mesothelioma using nanotechnology.

Researchers used nanoparticles containing micro RNA, injected into the body and directed to tumors by targeted antibodies. These guided the particles to the tumor while ignoring other tissues. Once at the tumor, the particles released the micro RNA into cancer cells, inserting new genes to stop their growth.

This nanoparticle treatment is being tested against different types of cancers with different medicines. Anything can be packed into the particle and directed by antibodies at specific cancer cells. Chemotherapy medications could be placed in the particles and delivered directly to cancer cells. These toxic drugs are now administered to the entire body and are not very specific. They target any living cells that grow and divide rapidly, causing uncomfortable and unhealthy side effects. Targeting cancer cells directly could eliminate those side effects.

One recent study used nanoparticles to deliver targeted treatment to cancer cells, and researchers visually proved its success using a special molecule alongside the nanoparticles and chemotherapy drugs that fluoresced green when cancer cells died. It proved 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 and it may not be long before this becomes a treatment for a majority of cancer patients, many of whom have little hope of survival.

Ongoing Nanotechnology Research

Because of nanotechnology’s potential to treat and possibly cure difficult cancers like mesothelioma, many research institutes are investing in further study. At the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, researchers are using nano-sized biochips to test how effective drugs are on cancer cells and to deliver individualized treatments to patients.

At the University of Pennsylvania the main goal of the Penn Center for Orphan Disease Research and Therapy is to develop and test nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery. The center recently received a $10 million gift toward the goal of making these treatments work. New York University’s Langone Medical Center is working with a high-tech piece of equipment called a NanoString Technologies nCounter Analysis System. It will help researchers investigate cancer and how to treat it at the molecular level using nanotechnology.

Some Nanotechnology May Contribute to Mesothelioma

Nanotechnology holds great promise for treating diseases like mesothelioma, but some of these tiny particles may also cause harm. Nanotubes, according to research, may cause damage when inhaled, damage similar to that caused by mesothelioma-causing asbestos fibers. Studies show these long, thin tubes resemble asbestos fibers and act like asbestos fibers.

Nanotubes, discovered a couple of decades ago, have many properties that make them a wonder material, like asbestos itself was once thought to be. Lightweight like plastic, they 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 for 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 as asbestos does, the study warrants some concern.

Mesothelioma is a difficult cancer. Patients have little hope of survival because it is so aggressive and is diagnosed in later stages. Nanotechnology could address both of these issues. While more research is needed, these technological advances could help make mesothelioma diagnoses more accurate and help kill the cancer cells in tumors.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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