Sunday, November 4, 2007

Science Fiction… Coming to a cancer hospital near you?

The thing that is intriguing about science fiction is that eventually, some of the fiction turns to fact. Remember the James Bond car tracking device in Goldfinger or the Star Trek breast communicator? These were fiction at one time, now they are almost commonplace with GPS positioning devices and Bluetooth cell phone ear buds. I have been reading about a new approach to destroying cancer cells this weekend. It reads almost like science fiction.

The technique uses carbon nanotubes and ultrasound to destroy cancer cells and tumors. See Wikipedia for an explanation of a nanotube. To give you the feel for the size of a nanotube however, the thickness of the walls of a nanotube can be 1/50,000 the width of a human hair. That means that the walls of 50,000 nanotubes piled one on top of the other can be as thin as a human hair. The length of a nanotube can be up to 10,000 times longer than the width. So, even there, you would need 5 of the longest nanotubes stacked end-to-end to approximate the width of a human hair. Nanotubes can be filled with chemo therapeutic medicines. The next trick which really seems like the sticky point to me at this juncture, is how does one deliver the nanotubes to the cancer cells and tumors. The holy grail in cancer research currently addresses this question. It is seeking a way to do just that. Cancer cells have different receptors than normal cells. Plus, different cancers have different receptors in their cells. The newer chemo agents, many of which are in phase I, II, and III FDA trials are genetically engineered to seek out and attach themselves to these different, yet specific receptors. The next step, once the nanotubes are attached to the cells, how does one release the chemo or otherwise use the nanotubes to destroy the cancer. This is where the ultrasound comes in. In studies on lab animals, an ultrasound beam, believed to be otherwise harmless, has been directed over the body for two minutes, the effect of which has been to release the chemo agents or to heat up the nanotubes to destroy the cancer cells or tumors. The success in rabbits with aggressive cancers has met with 100% tumor eradication. One article written a year ago stated that human trials were expected to be about a year away. There are articles which site potential for early cancer detection, cancer cell and tumor eradication in humans, and far less collateral damage than from the current treatment methods.

I talked to a very well respected cancer researcher about this technique about 2 – 3 months ago. She has been exposed to this research and was very excited about it. However (yes, there’s the “but” in cancer treatment), she felt that for this to become a standard of care could be 10 – 20 years away. I respect this researcher greatly. My challenge to the cancer community is to move as quickly as possible. One doesn’t get to say this too often about one’s work, but in this case “LIVES ARE LITTERALLY AT STAKE.”

For more information on the topic, I’d suggest Goggling the terms nanotube, ultrasound, and cancer. You’ll get some great hits within the first two pages.

Take care everyone.

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