Medicine's Next Big Thing: Nanomedicine

March 9, 2009 5:49:36 PM PDT
More than half of those diagnosed with cancer undergo chemotherapy. But the drugs that save people often leave them with painful side effects. Now scientists are taking a much smaller, but more powerful approach to targeting the deadly disease.Valerie Buchanan never thought she'd be one of the 200,000 women every year who get breast cancer.

"I think that we're all aware that it could happen to us, but the reality when it does is a different story," she told Ivanhoe.

Buchanan acted aggressively, having a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. The grueling battle included side effects like nausea, weight gain and exhaustion.

"I guess the scariest part is that what the chemo could do to you," she said.

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancerous cells and healthy ones. Researchers are using nanotechnology to design a better plan of attack.

"Nanotechnology is a way to provide what we call targeted delivery of those drugs," Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., director of the Center for NanoMedicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Ferrari is testing a new drug delivery system to target cancer. Nanocarriers 100 times smaller than a strand of hair are injected into the blood stream. They travel to harmful cells where they release drugs.

"What we are trying to do is making sure that every drop of molecule, of drug injected into patients makes it to the cancer and none of it gets spilled and does damage in places that it is not supposed to touch," Dr. Ferrari explained.

Doctors in Germany are also using nanotechnology to treat brain tumors and prostate cancer. They inject tiny particles into a tumor, infiltrating its cells. A magnetic field then heats and destroys the cancer.

Buchanan is eager for the day when fighting cancer means fewer debilitating side effects.

"To have the chemotherapy go directly to that location or that surrounding area and not to have to go through your entire body would be wonderful," she said.

A small wonder that could make a huge difference in the more than ten million Americans trying to conquer cancer.

Dr. Ferrari hopes his nanotechnology can be used one day to treat heart disease, hemorrhaging and other conditions that affect blood vessels.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Natalie Wong Camarata, Media Relations Specialist
UT Health Science Center at Houston
(713) 500-3307
Natalie.W.Camarata@uth.tmc.edu

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