Tag Archives: cancer

Doctor to patient: “Where would you like your carbon nanotubes implanted?”

A Nov. 3, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily offers some context, as well as, details for a sensing research project with medical applications being conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),

Nitric oxide (NO) is one of the most important signaling molecules in living cells, carrying messages within the brain and coordinating immune system functions. In many cancerous cells, levels are perturbed, but very little is known about how NO behaves in both healthy and cancerous cells.

“Nitric oxide has contradictory roles in cancer progression, and we need new tools in order to better understand it,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “Our work provides a new tool for measuring this important molecule, and potentially others, in the body itself and in real time.”

Led by postdoc Nicole Iverson, Strano’s lab has built a sensor that can monitor NO in living animals for more than a year. The sensors, described in the Nov. 3 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, can be implanted under the skin and used to monitor inflammation — a process that produces NO. This is the first demonstration that nanosensors could be used within the body for this extended period of time.

The Nov. 3, 2013 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert) written by Anne Trafton, which originated the news item, describes carbon nanotubes and how they are being used as sensing devices by the research team,

Carbon nanotubes — hollow, one-nanometer-thick cylinders made of pure carbon — have drawn great interest as sensors. Strano’s lab has recently developed carbon nanotube sensors for a variety of molecules, including hydrogen peroxide and toxic agents such as the nerve gas sarin. Such sensors take advantage of carbon nanotubes’ natural fluorescence, by coupling them to a molecule that binds to a specific target. When the target is bound, the tubes’ fluorescence brightens or dims.

Strano’s lab has previously shown that carbon nanotubes can detect NO if the tubes are wrapped in DNA with a particular sequence. In the new paper, the researchers modified the nanotubes to create two different types of sensors: one that can be injected into the bloodstream for short-term monitoring, and another that is embedded in a gel so it can be implanted long-term under the skin.

To make the particles injectable, Iverson attached PEG, a biocompatible polymer that inhibits particle-clumping in the bloodstream. She found that when injected into mice, the particles can flow through the lungs and heart without causing any damage. Most of the particles accumulate in the liver, where they can be used to monitor NO associated with inflammation.

“So far we have only looked at the liver, but we do see that it stays in the bloodstream and goes to kidneys. Potentially we could study all different areas of the body with this injectable nanoparticle,” Iverson says.

The longer-term sensor consists of nanotubes embedded in a gel made from alginate, a polymer found in algae. Once this gel is implanted under the skin of the mice, it stays in place and remains functional for 400 days; the researchers believe it could last even longer. This kind of sensor could be used to monitor cancer or other inflammatory diseases, or to detect immune reactions in patients with artificial hips or other implanted devices, according to the researchers.

Once the sensors are in the body, the researchers shine a near-infrared laser on them, producing a near-infrared fluorescent signal that can be read using an instrument that can tell the difference between nanotubes and other background fluorescence.

There is research into how the sensor could be adapted for use in diabetics, from the news release,

Iverson is now working on adapting the technology to detect glucose, by wrapping different kinds of molecules around the nanotubes.

Most diabetic patients must prick their fingers several times a day to take blood glucose readings. While there are electrochemical glucose sensors available that can be attached to the skin, those sensors last only a week at most, and there is a risk of infection because the electrode pierces the skin.

Furthermore, Strano says, the electrochemical sensor technology is not accurate enough to be incorporated into the kind of closed-loop monitoring system that scientists are now working toward. This type of system would consist of a sensor that offers real-time glucose monitoring, connected to an insulin pump that would deliver insulin when needed, with no need for finger pricking or insulin injection by the patient.

“The current thinking is that every part of the closed-loop system is in place except for an accurate and stable sensor. There is considerable opportunity to improve upon devices that are now on the market so that a complete system can be realized,” Strano says.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

In vivo biosensing via tissue-localizable near-infrared-fluorescent single-walled carbon nanotubes by Nicole M. Iverson, Paul W. Barone, Mia Shandell, Laura J. Trudel, Selda Sen, Fatih Sen, Vsevolod Ivanov, Esha Atolia, Edgardo Farias, Thomas P. McNicholas, Nigel Reuel, Nicola M. A. Parry, Gerald N. Wogan & Michael S. Strano. Nature Nanotechnology (2013) doi:10.1038/nnano.2013.222 Published online 03 November 2013

There is a free preview of the article available via ReadCube Access otherwise this article is behind a paywall.

How many Holy Grails are there? Nanoscientists have reached another one (cancer, again)

A July 24, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily mentions the latest ‘Holy Grail’ breakthrough’,

Just months after setting a record for detecting the smallest single virus in solution, researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) have announced a new breakthrough: They used a nano-enhanced version of their patented microcavity biosensor to detect a single cancer marker protein, which is one-sixth the size of the smallest virus, and even smaller molecules below the mass of all known markers.

The July 24, 2013 Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) press release features the Holy Grail in its headline (Note: Links have been removed),

NYU-Poly Nano Scientists Reach the Holy Grail in Label-Free Cancer Marker Detection: Single Molecules

Unlike current technology, which attaches a fluorescent molecule, or label, to the antigen to allow it to be seen, the new process detects the antigen without an interfering label.
Stephen Arnold, university professor of applied physics and member of the Othmer-Jacobs Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, published details of the achievement in Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

The press release goes on to the describe the context for this breakthrough and provides details about it (Note: A link has been removed),

In 2012, Arnold and his team were able to detect in solution the smallest known RNA virus, MS2, with a mass of 6 attograms. Now, with experimental work by postdoctoral fellow Venkata Dantham and former student David Keng, two proteins have been detected: a human cancer marker protein called Thyroglobulin, with a mass of just 1 attogram, and the bovine form of a common plasma protein, serum albumin, with a far smaller mass of 0.11 attogram. [emphasis mine] “An attogram is a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a gram,” said Arnold, “and we believe that our new limit of detection may be smaller than 0.01 attogram.”

This latest milestone builds on a technique pioneered by Arnold and collaborators from NYU-Poly and Fordham University.  In 2012, the researchers set the first sizing record by treating a novel biosensor with plasmonic gold nano-receptors, enhancing the electric field of the sensor and allowing even the smallest shifts in resonant frequency to be detected. Their plan was to design a medical diagnostic device capable of identifying a single virus particle in a point-of-care setting, without the use of special assay preparations.

At the time, the notion of detecting a single protein—phenomenally smaller than a virus—was set forth as the ultimate goal.

“Proteins run the body,” explained Arnold. “When the immune system encounters virus, it pumps out huge quantities of antibody proteins, and all cancers generate protein markers. A test capable of detecting a single protein would be the most sensitive diagnostic test imaginable.”

To the surprise of the researchers, examination of their nanoreceptor under a transmission electron microscope revealed that its gold shell surface was covered with random bumps roughly the size of a protein. Computer mapping and simulations created by Stephen Holler, once Arnold’s student and now assistant professor of physics at Fordham University, showed that these irregularities generate their own highly reactive local sensitivity field extending out several nanometers, amplifying the capabilities of the sensor far beyond original predictions. “A virus is far too large to be aided in detection by this field,” Arnold said. “Proteins are just a few nanometers across—exactly the right size to register in this space.”

The implications of single protein detection are significant and may lay the foundation for improved medical therapeutics.  Among other advances, Arnold and his colleagues posit that the ability to follow a signal in real time—to actually witness the detection of a single disease marker protein and track its movement—may yield new understanding of how proteins attach to antibodies.

Arnold named the novel method of label-free detection “whispering gallery-mode biosensing” because light waves in the system reminded him of the way that voices bounce around the whispering gallery under the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A laser sends light through a glass fiber to a detector. When a microsphere is placed against the fiber, certain wavelengths of light detour into the sphere and bounce around inside, creating a dip in the light that the detector receives. When a molecule like a cancer marker clings to a gold nanoshell attached to the microsphere, the microsphere’s resonant frequency shifts by a measureable amount.

Just a brief comment about the attogram, this is the first time I’ve seen atto prepended to anything other than a unit of time, e.g. attosecond. For anyone who’s not familiar with the atto scale, it’s less than femto,which is less than pico, which is less than nano. There are two more scales moving downward after atto:  zetto followed by yocto. As far as I’m aware, yocto is still the smallest unit of measurement. (more simply and moving down in scale: micro, nano, pico, femto, atto, zetto, yocto)

Back to the Holy Grail at hand, here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

Label-Free Detection of Single Protein Using a Nanoplasmonic-Photonic Hybrid Microcavity by Venkata R. Dantham, Stephen Holler, Curtis Barbre, David Keng, Vasily Kolchenko, and Stephen Arnold. Nano Lett., 2013, 13 (7), pp 3347–3351 DOI: 10.1021/nl401633y Publication Date (Web): June 18, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes, cancer, and the US National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety’s (NIOSH) latest findings

A Mar. 11, 2013 news item on Nanowerk reveals some of the latest research performed by US National Institute of Occupational Health Safety (NIOSH) researchers into the question of whether or not multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) cause cancer,

Earlier today, at the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology, NIOSH researchers reported preliminary findings from a new laboratory study in which mice were exposed by inhalation to multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT). The study was designed to investigate whether these tiny particles have potential to initiate or promote cancer. By “initiate,” we mean the ability of a substance to cause mutations in DNA that can lead to tumors. By “promote,” we mean the ability of a substance to cause cells that have already sustained such DNA mutations to then become tumors.

It is very important to have new data that describe the potential health hazards that these materials might represent, so that protective measures can be developed to ensure the safe advancement of nanotechnology in the many industries where it is being applied.

The Mar. 11, 2013 posting (which originated the news item) by Vincent Castranova, PhD; Charles L Geraci, PhD; Paul Schulte, PhD  on the NIOSH blog provides details about the experimental protocols and the outcome of the experiments,

In the NIOSH study, a group of laboratory mice were injected with a chemical that is a known cancer initiator, methylcholanthrene.  Another group of mice were injected with a saline solution as a control group.  The mice then were exposed by inhalation either to air or to a concentration of MWCNT.   These protocols enabled the researchers to investigate whether MWNCT alone would initiate cancer in mice, or whether MWCNT would promote cancer where the initiator, methylcholanthrene, had already been applied.

Mice receiving both the initiator chemical plus exposure to MWCNT were significantly more likely to develop tumors (90% incidence) and have more tumors (an average of 3.3 tumors/mouse lung) than mice receiving the initiator chemical alone (50% of mice developing tumors with an average of 1.4 tumors/lung).  Additionally, mice exposed to MWCNT and to MWCNT plus the initiator chemical had larger tumors than the respective control groups.  The number of tumors per animal exposed to MWCNT alone was not significantly elevated compared with the number per animal in the controls.  These results indicate that MWCNT can increase the risk of cancer in mice exposed to a known carcinogen.  The study does not suggest that MWCNTs alone cause cancer in mice.

That last sentence is quite important because (from the NIOSH blog post),

Several earlier studies in the scientific literature indicated that MWCNT could have the potential to initiate or promote cancer. The new NIOSH study is the first to show that MWCNT is a cancer promoter in a laboratory experiment, and reports the growth of lung tumors in laboratory mice following inhalation exposure to MWCNT rather than injection, instillation, or aspiration.  Inhalation exposure most closely resembles the exposure route of greatest concern in the workplace. In the study, laboratory mice were exposed to one type of MWCNT through inhalation at a concentration of 5 milligrams per cubic meter of air for five hours per day for a period of 15 days.

Risk of occupational cancer depends on the potency of a given substance to cause or promote cancer and the concentration and duration of worker exposure to that substance.  This research is an important step in our understanding of the hazard associated with MWCNT, but before we can determine whether MWCNT pose an occupational cancer risk, we need more information about actual exposure levels and the types and nature of MWCNT being used in the workplace, and how that compares to the material  used in this study.

This study is part of a larger program designed to establish safety practices with regard to handling nanomaterials/nanoparticles (from the NIOSH blog post),

These laboratory studies are part of a strategic program of NIOSH research to better understand the occupational health and safety implications of nanoparticle exposure, and to make authoritative science-based recommendations for controlling exposures so that the technology is developed responsibly as the research advances, and the societal benefits of nanotechnology can be realized.  NIOSH has worked closely with diverse public and private sector partners over the past decade to incorporate occupational health and safety into practical strategies for safe development of this revolutionary technology. More information is available on the NIOSH nanotechnology topic page.

There is no mention in the blog post as to whether the MWCNTs in this latest work were long or short or a mixture of both. Unfortunately, the study has not yet been published in a journal, so it’s not yet available for reading purposes. I did mention carbon nanotubes and toxicity in a Jan. 16, 2013 posting about a recent study,

Researchers at the University College of London (UCL), France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), and Italy’s University of Trieste have determined that carbon nanotube toxicity issues can be addressed be reducing their length and treating them chemically.

While I find this latest work from NIOSH interesting, it’s hard for me to understand why there’s no mention of length. Unless, the NIOSH work is focused on what happens when MWCNTs are inhaled along with known cancer initiators and they believe that length is not a factor.

ETA Mar. 15, 2013: I did find get some information about the length (long carbon nanotubes for the most part) as per this Mar. 14, 2013 posting or you can find the update in my Mar. 15, 2013 posting here.

University of Alberta, Movember, and nanomedicine cancer research

Not sure when November became Movember but in keeping with the theme researchers at the University of Alberta have just published their work on developing ‘homing beacon drugs’ that eliminate cancerous cells only while leaving healthy cells to go about their work. From the Nov. 20, 2012 University of Alberta news release by Raquel Maurier (Note: I have removed some links),

A medical researcher with the University of Alberta and his team just published their findings about their work on developing “homing beacon drugs” that kill only cancer cells, not healthy ones, thanks to nanotechnology.

John Lewis, the Sojonky Chair in Prostate Cancer Research with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal, Nano Letters. He is also an associate professor in the Department of Oncology at the U of A, the director of the Translational Prostate Cancer Research Group and a fellow of the National Institute for Nanotechnology.

Lewis noted chemotherapy goes through the body and kills any cells that are dividing, even healthy ones—which is why cancer patients have immune-system problems, hair loss, nausea and skin problems.

“We are developing smart drugs that determine which are the cancer cells and which aren’t, then selectively kill only the cancer cells. The drugs look for a protein that is only found in cancer cells, not normal cells. This system acts like a homing beacon for tumours.”

These drugs, tested to date in only animal lab models, could be used within a week of cancer diagnoses, predicts Lewis. The drugs would target cancerous cells throughout the body, attacking sneaky cancer cells that have already escaped and grown outside the site of the main tumour.

Lewis isn’t sure when these homing beacon drugs could be available for physicians to use with patients, but hopes his works paves the way for patient-centred therapies.

Catherine Griwkowsky posted a Nov. 20, 2012 article and video about the research on the Edmonton Sun website which features an interview with the lead researcher, Choi-Fong Cho,

Fong Cho, lead researcher on the study published in the peer-reviewed Nano Letters, said the nanoparticles can be used both for imaging and for drug delivery.

“For my purpose, you put in something that binds to your cancer directly to a particle that leads to your cancer and the nanoparticle will light up the cancer,” she said.

“You could also, for example, put drugs on it and deliver the drugs specifically to the tumour without harming the surrounding cells and tissues that causes a lot of side effects.”

The lab is also looking at ways of identifying and stopping metastasis …

In keeping with the Movember theme, here’s John Lewis,

UAlberta medical researcher John Lewis sports a Movember mustache to support prostate cancer awareness and research. Lewis and his team are developing ‘homing beacon drugs’ that can target cancer cells while sparing healthy cells. Their findings could help improve survival rates and quality of life for people undergoing cancer treatment. (downloaded from http://www.news.ualberta.ca/article.aspx?id=4CD917F418E3492F92CCCDDA7B8221640)

Here’s a citation for Cho’s and Lewis’ article,

Discovery of Novel Integrin Ligands from Combinatorial Libraries Using a Multiplex “Beads on a Bead” Approach by Choi-Fong Cho, Giulio A. Amadei, Daniel Breadner, Leonard G. Luyt, and John D. Lewis in Nano Lett., 2012, 12 (11), pp 5957–5965 DOI: 10.1021/nl3034043 Publication Date (Web): October 25, 2012 Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

Nanodiagnostics: a roundtable at Kavli and new report from Cientifica

The Kavli Foundation, based in California, held a roundtable discussion on ‘Fighting Cancer with Nanotechnology‘ which focused largely on diagnostics and drug delivery. According to a March 14, 2012 news item on Nanowerk, the four participants were:

  • Anna Barker – Former Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and current Director of Arizona State University’s Transformative Healthcare Networks;
  • Mark E. Davis – Professor of Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and a member of the Experimental Therapeutics Program of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the City of Hope;
  • James Heath – Professor of Chemistry at Caltech and a founding Board member of Caltech’s Kavli Nanoscience Institute;
  • Michael Phelps – Norton Simon Professor, and Chair of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles.

The researchers discussed how nanotechnology holds the promise of revolutionizing the way medicine wages war against cancer, from providing new ways to combine drugs to delivering gene-silencing therapeutics for cancer cells. [emphasis mine]

Yet again, war has been used as a metaphor for healing. I particularly appreciate the way ‘revolution’, which resonates with US audiences in a very particular way, has been introduced.

The discussion features diagnostics,

JAMES HEATH: That is certainly an important application. A typical diagnostic test measures only a single protein. But the nature of cancer—even a single cancer type—is that it can vary significantly from patient to patient. The implication is that there is probably not a single protein biomarker that can distinguish between such patient variations. Even to confidently address a single diagnostic question may take measuring several protein biomarkers. Discovering the right biomarkers is extremely challenging—you might have 300 candidate biomarkers from which you want to choose just six, but you will likely have to test all 300 on a very large patient pool to determine the best six. That’s tough to do with existing technologies because each protein measurement requires a large sample of blood or tumor tissue, and each measurement is time-consuming, labor intensive and expensive. With some of the emerging nanotechnologies, a large panel of candidate protein biomarkers can be rapidly measured from just a pinprick of blood, or a tissue sample as small as a single cell. This allows one to accelerate the development of conventional diagnostic tests, but it also opens up the possibilities for fundamentally new diagnostic approaches. These are opportunities that nanotech is bringing into play that simply weren’t there before.

Here’s one of my favourite comments,

MICHAEL PHELPS: Yes. All of us developing therapeutics want to have a transparent patient—to see where the drug goes throughout all tissues of the body, whether it hits the disease target in a sufficient dose to induce the desired therapeutic effect on the target, and where else the drug goes in the body regarding side effects. [emphasis mine] PET [positron emission tomography 'scan'] can reveal all this. For this reason almost all drug companies now use PET in their discovery and development processes.

I suspect Phelps was a bit over enthused and spoke without thinking. I’m sure most doctors and researchers would agree that what they want is to heal without harm and not transparent patients. That’s why they’re so excited about nanotechnology and therapeutics, they’re trying to eliminate or, at least, lessen harm in the healing process. It would be nice though if they get past the ‘war’ metaphors and dreams of transparent patients.

I found the comments about the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), pharmaceutical companies and biotech startups quite interesting,

ANNA BARKER: These challenges are mostly related to perception and having the tools to demonstrate that the agent does what you say it does. It’s more difficult for nanotherapeutics than for other drugs because they employ a new set of technologies that the FDA is more guarded about approving. The FDA is responsible for the health of the American public, so they are very careful about putting anything new into the population. So the challenges have to do with showing you can deliver what you said you were going to deliver to the target, and that the toxicity and distribution of the agent in the body is what you predicted. You have to have different measures than what is included in the classic toxicology testing packages we use for potential drugs.

MARK DAVIS: There’s so much cool science that people want to do, but you’re limited in what you can do in patients for a number of reasons. One is financial. This area is not being pushed forward by big Pharma, but by biotech companies, and they have limited resources. Secondly, the FDA is still learning about these innovations, they can limit what you are allowed to do in a clinical trial. For example, when we did the first clinical trial with a nanoparticle that had a targeting agent enabling it to latch onto a specific receptor on cancer cells and a gene silencing payload, we realized it would be important to know if patients have this receptor and the gene target of the payload to begin with. Prebiopsies from patients before testing the nanotherapeutic on them to see if the tumor cells had this receptor and gene target in abundance would have been helpful. However, in this first-in-man trial, the FDA did not allow required biopsies, and they were performed on a volunteer-basis only.

It is a fascinating discussion as it provides insight into the field of nanotherapeutics and into the some of the researchers.

On the topic of nanodiagnostics but this time focusing on the business end of things, a new report has been released by Cientifica. From the March 13, 2012 press release,

Nanodiagnostics will be a $50-billion market by 2021; Cientifica’s “Nanotechnology for Medical Diagnostics” looks at emerging nanoscale technologies

Following on from Cientifica’s Nanotechnology for Drug Delivery report series, “Nanotechnology for Medical Diagnostics,” a 237-page report, takes a comprehensive look at current and emerging nanoscale technologies used for medical diagnostics.

Areas examined include quantum dots, gold nanoparticles, exosomes, nanoporous silica, nanowires, micro- and nanocantilever arrays, carbon nanotubes, ion channel switch nanobiosensors, and many more.

Cientifica estimates medical imaging is the sector showing the highest growth and impact of nanomaterials. Already a $1.7-billion market, with gold nanoparticle applications accounting for $959 million, imaging will continue to be the largest nanodiagnostics sector, with gold nanoparticles, quantum dots and nanobiosensors all easily exceeding $10 billion.

“Getting onboard with the right technology at the right time is crucial,” said Harper [Tim Harper, Cientifica's Chief Executive Officer]. “The use of exosomes in diagnosis, for instance, a relatively new technique and a tiny market, is set to reach close to half a billion dollars by 2021.”

You can find out more and/or purchase the report here.

I have written about Cientifica’s  Nanotechnology for Drug Delivery (NDD) white paper here and have published an interview with Tim Harper about global nanotechnology funding and economic impacts here.

Nanosurgery in Montréal (Canada)

When I was typing up charts for home nursing care (nurses visiting patients in their home after a hospital procedure), I routinely asked if a patient whose cancer had metastasized would require palliative care even though the answer would be yes. In over 3 years and after hundreds of charts, I only had one ‘No’. So it is with some interest I read about Michel Meunier and his team’s work at the Polytechnique Montréal (Québec, Canada). From the Feb. 16, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The unique method developed by Professor Michel Meunier and his team uses a femtosecond laser (a laser with ultra-short pulses) along with gold nanoparticles. Deposited on the cells, these nanoparticles concentrate the laser’s energy and make it possible to perform nanometric-scale surgery in an extremely precise and non-invasive fashion. The technique allows to change the expression of genes in the cancer cells and could be used to slow their migration and prevent the formation of metastases.

The technique perfected by Professor Meunier and his colleagues is a promising alternative to conventional cellular transfection methods, such as lipofection. The experiment, carried out in Montréal laboratories on malignant human melanoma cells, demonstrated 70% optoporation effectiveness, as well as a transfection performance three times higher than lipofection treatment. In addition, unlike conventional treatment, which destroys the physical integrity of the cells, the new method assures cellular viability, with a toxicity of less than 1%.

The Polytechnique’s Feb. 16, 2012 press release is here and you can find out more about Meunier and his lab here (in English and en français). For those eager to read the article, it was published in Biomaterials (vol. 33, no. 7, March 2012, pp. 2345-50) is titled, Off-resonance plasmonic enhanced femtosecond laser optoporation and transfection of cancer cells and is behind a paywall.

Bacteria, pyramids, cancer, and Sylvain Martel

Canada’s national newspaper (as they like to bill themselves), the Globe and Mail featured Québec researcher’s (Sylvain Martel) work in a Dec. 13, 2011 article by Bertrand Marotte. From the news article,

Professor Sylvain Martel is already a world leader in the field of nano-robotics, but now he’s working to make a medical dream reality: To deliver toxic drug treatments directly to cancerous cells without damaging the body’s healthy tissue.

I have profiled Martel’s work before in an April 6 2010 posting about bacterial nanobots (amongst other subjects) and in a March 16, 2011 posting about his work with remote-controlled microcarriers.

It seems that his next project will combine the work on bacteria and microcarriers (from the Globe and Mail article),

Bolstered by his recent success in guiding micro-carriers loaded with cancer-fighting medications into a rabbit’s liver, he and his team of up to 20 researchers from several disciplines are working to transfer the method to the treatment of colorectal cancer in humans within four years.

This time around he is not using micro-carriers to deliver the drug to the tumour, but rather bacteria.

Here’s a video of the bacteria which illustrates Martel’s earlier success with ‘training’ them to build a pyramid.

The latest breakthrough reported in March 2011 (from my posting) implemented an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine,

Known for being the world’s first researcher to have guided a magnetic sphere through a living artery, Professor Martel is announcing a spectacular new breakthrough in the field of nanomedicine. Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, his team successfully guided microcarriers loaded with a dose of anti-cancer drug through the bloodstream of a living rabbit, right up to a targeted area in the liver, where the drug was successfully administered. This is a medical first that will help improve chemoembolization, a current treatment for liver cancer.

Here’s what Martel is trying to accomplish now (from the Globe and Mail article),

The MRI machine’s magnetic field is manipulated by [a] sophisticated software program that helps guide the magnetically sensitive bacteria to the tumour mass.

Attached to the bacteria is a capsule containing the cancer-fighting drug. The bacteria are tricked into swimming to an artificially created “magnetic north” at the centre of the tumour, where they will die off after 30 to 40 minutes. The micro-mules, however, have left their precious cargo: the capsule, whose envelope breaks and releases the drug.

I’m not entirely sure why the drug won’t destroy health tissue after it’s finished with the tumour but that detail is not offered in Marotte’s story which, in the last few paragraphs, switches focus from medical breakthroughs to the importance of venture capital funding for Canadian biotech research.

I wish Martel and his team great success.

Bot bot here and bot bot there and a bot bot everywhere but not Old Macdonald’s Farm

The Materials Research Society (MRS) has a Fall 2011 meeting in Boston, Massachusetts scheduled for Nov. 28, 2011 to Dec. 2, 2011, which will feature amongst other exhibits,  ‘mibots’. From the Nov. 9, 2011 news item on Azonano,

…  new “miBots” from Imina Technologies (Ecublens, Switzerland).

.. are more than nanomanipulators. Unlike conventional systems, they are virtually untethered and move independently. Working individually or in groups, they can be fitted with a variety of tools such as grippers, probes, and optical fibers so that, in addition to manipulating the sample, they can illuminate a nano workspace and conduct force or electrical measurements. Vacuum ready, miBots’ proprietary monolithic structure makes them robust, mechanically and thermally stable, and less sensitive to vibration.

Imina Technologies has engineered a variety of stage options for these novel mini robots. For conventional installation on inverted light microscopes (LM), SEMs, or focused-ion beam systems (FIBs), the “miBase” provides control and maneuvering room for up to four miBots. Special apertures accommodate illumination for the LM and stubs for SEMs, and multiple coaxial I/O connections enable electrical characterization and testing.

You can find out more about Imina Technologies and their ‘mibots’ here.

For a completely different kind of bot, a company named Nanobotmodels, situated in the Ukraine, offers illustration, animations, and presentation materials. From the company’s About page,

Our company Nanobotmodels was founded in 2007 and its goal is todevelop modern art-science-technology intersections. Nanotechnology boosts medicine, engineering, biotechnology, electronics soon, so artwork and vision of the nanofuture will be very useful.

We are making hi-end nanotechnology and nanomedicine illustration and animation. You can imagine any interesting-to-you animation, illustration or presentation materials, and we can make them real.

The level of detail in each medical illustration can be used to simplify complex structures and make them visually attractive.

Our clients include the largest medicine photobanks, nanotechnology magazines and publications, educational organization, and private companies.

Company was founded by CEO Svidinenko Yuriy, futurist and nanotechnology artist.

Our team consists of modern artists, modelers and nanotechnology scientists.

Here’s a bit more about the company’s work in medical illustration from a Nov. 11, 2011 news item at Nanotechnology Now,

One heat therapy to destroy cancer tumors using nanoparticles is called AuroShell™. The AuroShell™ nanoparticles circulate through a patient’s bloodstream, exiting where the blood vessels are leaking at the site of cancer tumors. Once the nanoparticles accumulate at the tumor the AuroShell™ nanoparticles are used to concentrate the heat from infrared light to destroy cancer cells with minimal damage to surrounding healthy cells. Nanobotmodels company provides good visual illustration of this process. Nanospectra Biosciences has developed such a treatment using AuroShell™ that has been approved for a pilot trial with human patients.

Gold nanoparticles can absorb different frequencies of light, depending on their shape. Rod-shaped particles absorb light at near-infrared frequency; this light heats the rods but passes harmlessly through human tissue. Sphere-shaped nanoparticles absorb laser radiation and passes harmlessly through human tissue too.

Nanobotmodels Company provides visual illustration of nanoparticle cancer treatment. Our goal – make realistic vision of modern drug delivery technology.

I found this sample on the company’s website gallery,

Illustration from Nanobotmodels website: Nanomechanical robots attacking cancer cell

You can find more artwork here.

Those are all the bots for today.

Nature of Things’ The Nano Revolution part 2: More than Human

More than Human (the episode can be seen here), part of 2 of a special Nature of Things series, The Nano Revolution, was aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Oct. 20, 2011; one might be forgiven for thinking this episode concerned robots but that wasn’t the case.  The focus was on nanomedicine, specifically cancer and aging, along with a few scenarios hinting at social impacts of the ‘new’ medicine.

This episode, like the last one (Welcome to Nano City), presents the science in an understandable fashion without overexplaining basic concepts. A skill I much appreciate since watching a video of an engineer explain at length that the eye has a cornea and a retina to an audience of adults who were attending a talk about retinal implants.

More coherent than the first one, (Welcome to Nano City reviewed in my Oct. 17, 2011 posting), which featured three topics (one was totally unrelated to any city) both episodes,  convey excitement about the possibilities being suggested by nanotechnology.

As for this episode, More than human, it certainly told a compelling story of a future where there will be no cancer (or it will be easily treated if it does occur) and we won’t age as we can make perfect tissues to replace whatever has been broken. There were also hints of a few social issues as illustrated by future oriented vignettes interspersed through the programme.

I want to c0mmend the script writer for pulling together a story using disparate materials and videos (which I’m guessing are being repurposed, i.e., created for broadcast elsewhere and reused here). Given the broad range of nanomedicine research worldwide, this was a very difficult job.

Featured at some length was Dr. Chad Mirkin at Northwestern University. Here’s a description from Mirkin’s profile page on the Mirkin Group webspace,

Professor Mirkin is a chemist and a world renowned nanoscience expert, who is known for his development of nanoparticle-based biodetection schemes, the invention of Dip-Pen Nanolithography, and contributions to supramolecular chemistry, nanoelectronics, and nanooptics. [emphasis mine] He is the author of over 430 manuscripts and over 370 patents and applications, and the founder of three companies, Nanosphere, NanoInk, and Aurasense which are commercializing nanotechnology applications in the life science and semiconductor industries. Currently, he is listed as the most cited (based on total citations) chemist in the world with the second highest impact factor and the top most cited nanomedicine researcher in the world. At present, he is a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology.

Mirkin talked extensively about his work on biomarker sensing and its applications for diagnostic procedures that cut laboratory testing down from weeks to hours. This new equipment arising from Mirkin’s work is installed in some US hospital laboratories.

Dr. Silvano Dragonieri of Leiden University in The Netherlands discussed his e-nose technology which offers another approach to diagnostics. Here’s a description of Dragonieri’s (and another team’s) work in this area from an April 27, 2009 news item on physorg.com,

In 2006 researchers established that dogs could detect cancer by sniffing the exhaled breath of cancer patients. Now, using nanoscale arrays of detectors, two groups of investigators have shown that a compact mechanical device also can sniff out lung cancer in humans.

Hossam Haick, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, used a network of 10 sets of chemically modified carbon nanotubes to create a multicomponent sensor capable of discriminating between a healthy breath and one characteristic of lung cancer patients. This work appears in the journal Nano News. Meanwhile, Silvano Dragonieri, M.D., University of Bari, Italy, and his colleagues used a commercial nanoarray-based electronic “nose” to discriminate between the breath of patients with non-small cell lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These results appear in the journal Lung Cancer. [emphasis mine]

Nanomedicine is fascinating, which is why it’s easy to lose perspective. Thankfully there was Dr. Philip Kantoff  (also very enthused and a major figure in this area) to provide the voice of reason. Here’s more are about Kantoff from the profile page on the WEBMD website,

Dr. Kantoff has published more than 100 research articles on a variety of topics, including the molecular basis of genitourinary cancers and improved treatments for patients afflicted with prostate cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and testicular cancer. His laboratory research involves understanding the genetics of prostate cancer. His clinical research involves clinical trials of novel therapeutic treatments for the genitourinary cancers. He teaches at Harvard Medical School, and lectures internationally to both medical and lay audiences. Dr. Kantoff has written nearly 100 reviews and monographs on cancer and has edited numerous books, including Prostate Cancer, A Multi-Disciplinary Guide published by Blackwell, and Prostate Cancer: Principles and Practice, a definitive text on prostate cancer, published in December 2001 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. He has also written a popular book, Prostate Cancer, a Family Consultation, published by Houghton Mifflin.

As Kantoff counsels against over-hyping he notes that much of the work in the area of nanomedicine is in the laboratory; there are still animal trials and human clinical trials to be convened for further testing.

Building on Kantoff’s observations: let’s consider the difference between research and clinical practice. Even after the human clinical trials have taken place, there’s still uncertainty about how this new procedure or medication, no matter how personalized, will affect an individual. Would aspirin be available over-the-counter today if we’d known all of the side effects which many people suffer from? No, not a chance. How long did it take to find out that aspirin was a problem? Several years.

The idea that this new ‘personalized’ medicine that Mirkin refers to will provide a perfect solution to any disease is based on the belief that we understand disease processes. We do not. Yes, we’ve catalogued any number of genomes, etc. but at least one question remains. Why do some people who have one or more biomarker for a disease never experience it while others with fewer biomarkers do?

While that question wasn’t raised in the episode I was impressed with the fact that they did mention patent issues (innovation and, in this care, care can be stifled by patents and this seems to be increasingly the case); some larger philosophical issues, just how long do you want to live?, and who gets to enjoy these new benefits (if  such they be)?

I do have a few quibbles, there was no Canadian content other than David Suzuki reading a script as narration for the episode (this was true of the first episode too). The title, More than human, suggests not just robots but human enhancement too and that topic was barely discussed.

In future, I’d like to suggest a little more humility in programmes about nanotechnology. I found the constant references to ‘controlling’ atoms, matter, disease, etc. to be disconcerting. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t control an atom, we try to understand it and based on that understanding find better ways to exist in this universe.

Handheld diagnostic tool: nanoLAB

There’s a lot more action on the ‘handheld diagnostic equipment and abolish invasive testing’ front than I realized. (In my  Feb. 15, 2011 posting I highlighted the UK’s Argento [physical device and diagnostic tests for athletes] and PROOF [a Canadian group working 0n some new diagnostic tests for kidney patients and others].)

It turns out there’s another device, this one, to be found in the US, is called nanoLAB. From the Feb. 22, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

In 2009, Stanford University faculty member Shan Wang and doctoral students Richard Gaster and Drew Hall demonstrated that they could use the same ultrasensitive magnetic sensors that form the basis of today’s compact, high-capacity disk drives in combination with mass-produced magnetic nanotags to detect small amounts of cancer-associated proteins (click here for earlier story).

Now, in a paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip (“nanoLAB: An ultraportable, handheld diagnostic laboratory for global health”), the three scientists show how they shrunk this technology to create a handheld disease-detection device that any individual should be able to use at home to detect illness and even monitor the effectiveness of anticancer therapy.

In my Feb. 15 posting I wondered about how the samples were actually conveyed to the device. I now know how nanoLab does it, presumably Argento uses a similar approach,

The device, which the researchers have named the nanoLAB, consists of a disposable “stick” that resembles a home pregnancy test, and a handheld magnetic reader that analyzes a patient’s urine, blood, or saliva for the presence of specific disease-associated proteins. In its current design, the nanoLAB can provide simultaneous yes-no answers for up to eight different disease-associated proteins. The handheld sensor unit costs less than $200 to produce, while the sticks capable of making eight measurements cost less than $3.50 each, and could drop to under $1 apiece with improvements already in the works. …

To conduct a test using the nanoLab, a person would add a drop of biological sample – urine or blood, for example – on the stick. They would then add the contents of two premeasured vials to the stick and then wait 15 minutes for results to appear in the form of a lit LED light on the sensor unit.

It’s not quite Star Trek yet but we’re getting there.