Medical scientists are rapidly developing new weapons against cancer that use lasers, magnets, and "nanoballoons" — tiny particles that cause tumor cells to self-destruct.
Jonathan Lovell, a University of Buffalo assistant professor of biomedical engineering who helped create the pioneering anti-cancer technology, tells Newsmax Health new developments in nanotechnology are the wave of the future in the war on cancer.
Lovell says the UB nanoballoons, described this month in the journal Nature Communications, take an entirely different approach to destroying tumor cells and could vastly improve conventional cancer treatment, reduce chemotherapy side effects, and add to scientific understanding of the disease.
"Think of it this way," he says. "The nanoballoon is a submarine. The drug is the cargo. We use a laser to open the submarine door which releases the drug. We close the door by turning the laser off. We then retrieve the submarine."
The tiny spheres are made of porphyrin — an organic compound — and phospholipid, a fat similar to vegetable oil. Like conventional chemotherapy drugs, they would be delivered to patients intravenously and travel through the bloodstream to reach tumor sites.
In laboratory experiments — involving collaborators from the University at Albany, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, the University of Waterloo, and McMaster University in Canada — Lovell tested the nanoballons in mice and found they could be manipulated by lasers. Once at the site of a tumor, the laser triggers the nanoballoons to pop open and release the drugs. When the laser is turned off, the spheres close, taking in proteins and molecules that might induce cancer growth, he explains. Doctors can then retrieve the nanoballoons by drawing blood or taking a biopsy.
A similar approach is underway at Lund University in Sweden, where researchers are using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumor cells to "self-destruct."
"The clever thing about the technique is that we can target selected cells without harming surrounding tissue," says Erik Renström, who has helped lead the project. "There are many ways to kill cells, but this method is contained and remote-controlled."