Tiny treatment, big effect: Nanotechnology to treat bone cancer

Nanotechnology is more than just your ultra-thin smartphone or laptop. In fact, medical researchers’ newest nanotechnology development could save lives as a highly effective treatment for bone cancer.

Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have engineered a system of nanoparticles that target bones, releasing drugs that kill tumour cells within them, stop the spread of cancer and promote the regrowth of healthy bone tissue.

What makes these nanoparticles work so well for bone treatments? They are coated with alendronate, a calcium-rich therapeutic agent that amasses in bones.

Since the nanoparticles are drawn to the calcium-laden bone tissue, they carry the drugs inside the alendronate coating directly to the affected area.

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Alendronate is already used to treat bone metastasis, or the spread of cancer to other bones. In this way, alendronate is not only directing the trajectory of the treatment, but stopping tumours from growing in healthy tissues.

As with many potential drugs, the treatment was first tested on mice. The mice were pre-treated with nanoparticles containing the bortezomib, an anti-cancer drug, injected with cancerous cells and then treated with the alendronate system.

The combination of pre-treatment and nanoparticle treatment increased bone strength, slowed the growth of the cancer cells and allowed the mice to live longer.

“These findings suggest that bone-targeted nanoparticle anti-cancer therapies offers a novel way to deliver a concentrated amount of drug in a controlled and target-specific manner to prevent tumor progression in multiple myeloma,” stated Dr Omid Farokhzad, co-senior author of the treatment study.

Indeed, this style of highly-targeted treatment is one of the great benefits of nanomedicine, as it causes fewer unintended effects on the rest of the body.

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Dr Irene Ghobrial, another co-senior study author, further explained the impact of the nanomedical treatment: “This work will pave the way for the development of innovative clinical trials in patients with myeloma to prevent progression from early precursor stages or in patients with breast, prostate or lung cancer who are at high-risk to develop bone metastasis.”

Between 60% and 80% of cancer patients develop bone metastasis, and nanotechnology could drastically decrease that number through both prevention in patients whose cancer could spread to their bones and treatment in those who already have bone tumours.

Perhaps the future will even see nanoparticle systems tailored to target different parts of the body, so that highly specific and efficient treatments become the norm until a cure is developed.


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