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.


Ultrathin switchable material set to make technology-embedded clothing a reality

A three atom-thick electronic switchable material that could be used to develop ‘smart clothing’ and wearables without conspicuous electronic components has been proved possible by engineers.

While the technology has not yet been made, engineers at Stanford University have run a computer simulation showing how the make the switchable material, bringing clothing that contains invisible electronic components far closer to reality.

The material takes the form of an ultrathin sheet of crystal that is only three atoms thick, which can be mechanically pulled and pushed between a state where it can conduct electricity and a state where it can’t.

This gives it the property of switch, allowing it to be used for binary commands, which form the building blocks of all digital technology.

“Think of it like flicking a light switch on and off,” said Karel-Alexander Duerloo, Stanford Engineering graduate student and first author of a Nature Communications article about the technology.

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Once developed, the technology could be used in wearable technology and smart clothing due to its ultrathin and flexible properties.

It would also be extremely power-efficient, which would not only be useful in clothing but have potential benefits for a whole host of power-hungry devices, such as smartphones.

Suggested possible uses include an ultralight mobile phone or a shirt with an embedded GPS system.

This technology could pave the way for ‘invisible’ electronics that are embedded into jewellery and clothing to provide technological assistance without the need for conspicuous, ever-present devices.

At present technology embedded into clothing requires careful design to hide bulky wires and battery packs that limit use and comfort.

Some attempts have been made to improve this, such as the development of stretchable electronics, but the technology remains limited and restricted by price.

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The crystal is formed of molybdenum and tellurium, which form an “atom sandwich” that can only conduct electricity when positioned in a particular structure, something that the team took advantage of for the simulation.

The study is an example of the growing research into monolayer substances, which will ultimately hold the key to lighter, thinner and in some cases transparent electronic devices.

The most widely known of these is graphene, the one carbon atom-thick material that has been hailed for uses as diverse as transparent solar panels, lightweight body armour and quick-charging batteries.

Although this technology is in its infancy, it is quickly growing and is likely to form the basis of the electronics of the future.

Stanford School of Engineering assistant professor of materials science and engineering Evan Reed said: “We’re like the advance scouts that survey the terrain and look for the best materials.”


First inline image courtesy of Karel-Alexander Duerloo.