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Nanotechnology: From Stark to Cancer

In the most recent Spiderman movie, “Spiderman: No Way Home”, we saw first-hand how Peter Parker’s suit utilized nanotechnology. It seems to be something futuristic, something that isn’t quite possible. However, nanotech is something that has been and is being utilized in a variety of fields, including medical research, particularly that for cancer.


Nanotechnology —the science and engineering of controlling matter, at the molecular scale, to create devices with novel chemical, physical and/or biological properties— can provide technical control and tools to enable the development of new diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventions that keep pace with today’s explosion in knowledge.


Here is one of the most fascinating uses of nanotechnology in the field of cancer prevention and treatment.


Drug Delivery Systems

The main utilization of nanotech in cancer treatment is for the administration of chemotherapy. Although there have been many improvements in cancer treatments, cancer is still quite difficult to treat. One reason is that cancer medicine, called chemotherapy, can be quite difficult for a patient to receive. The medicines are quite strong, and patients taking chemotherapy can experience side effects such as tiredness, hair loss, weight loss, and pain.


Here’s where nanotech comes in. Using drug delivery vehicles (DDVs), cancer researchers are trying to find a way to get the medicine directly into the patient’s cells, to avoid the adverse side-effects of normal chemotherapy. The hope is that if chemotherapy can reach only the cancer cells and leave healthy cells undisturbed, maybe cancer patients could receive a lower dose of medicine, and have fewer of the strong side effects that are usually experienced with chemotherapy. Some kinds of DDVs are already being used to treat cancer patients, and some are still being developed in the research lab to improve them and make sure that they are safe before they can be tested in humans.


A major problem facing scientists who are trying to develop good DDVs is figuring out how to direct them into just the cancer cells. One solution is by taking advantage of some properties of cancer cells that are different from healthy cells.


Based on what we know from the properties of cancer cells and tumours, there are several requirements for developing a DDV. First, the DDV must be made out of a material that should not be harmful to the person receiving it. Second, the DDV should be small enough to get into the tumour by way of the surface receptors and the blood vessels. Third, the DDV should be able to carry the cancer medicine inside of itself and keep it inside until it reaches the cancer cell, where the medicine needs to be released. A fourth requirement, which is not necessary for the patient but is necessary for scientists who want to study the DDV, is that we should be able to track the DDV in some way so that we know where it goes in the body and whether it can get into the cancer cells.


For all of these, scientists are making use of a type of DDV called nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are very tiny particles (about 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of one strand of your hair!). The nanoparticles used in this study are made out of silica, a type of glass, and they have small pores or holes, similar to a sponge so that the cancer medicine can be stored inside.


Furthermore, nanotechnology aids in the detection and diagnosis of cancer, immunotherapy, gene therapy and radiotherapy.


To know more, check out the linked sources!

 

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