Nanotechnology and cancer
Description: Mortality rates and incidence of cancer have decreased over the last decade and more people are surviving the disease. Now, nanotechnology is poised to further advance this progress through improved screening, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of cancer.
Balintfy: An estimated 1.5 million adults were diagnosed with cancer in 2009, with more than 562,000 dying from it in that one year alone. About 11.4 million men and women alive today in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetimes. But these statistics are on the decline and researchers expect that trend to continue, thanks to new technology, specifically nanotechnology.
Barker: Nanotechnology is a fairly simple concept.
Balintfy: Dr. Anna Barker is Deputy Director at the National Cancer Institute.
Barker: It's a micro machine basically
Balintfy: Dr. Barker explains that these tiny machines are really tiny—50-thousand times smaller than a human hair. And she emphasizes that they do something too.
Barker: So not only is it small, it's functional. And when it comes to cancer, this is a way to get things very specifically into cancer cells, and a way to understand how cancer evolves and develops in cells. And so it’s a very powerful technology for cancer.
Balintfy: Nanotechnology has the potential to detect cancer and deliver treatment in ways unimagined before.
Barker: One of the earliest applications for nanotechnology has been to take drugs that are already on the market—and by putting them in a new construct, a new nanotechnology delivery vehicle—where some of those drugs are actually performing much better. Why is that? Because you're delivering the drug more directly to the cancer cell, you’re sparing the normal cells.
Balintfy: Dr. Barker adds that nanotechnology research in cancer involves many scientific disciplines that have to come together.
Barker: So the physicists, the biologists, the mathematicians, the engineers, chemists, all have to come together to understand how do these tiny particles — and they’re very multifunctional sometimes—how do they behave, how can we make them behave the way we want them to behave by functionalizing them. So now all of a sudden it requires entirely new teams of people and the Nanotechnology Alliance for Cancer in its first five years has brought together some unbelievably powerful teams of physicists, mathematicians, cancer biologists, oncologists even, people treating, taking care of patients in the clinic.
Balintfy: The Nanotechnology Alliance for Cancer has already produced more than 200 disclosures or patents for nanotechnology devices. Dr. Barker is optimistic that breakthroughs will come fairly quickly in imaging, as well as early detection and drug delivery.
Barker: We don't want to over promise, but by the same token we want to make sure that we’re communicating about it regularly because we are doing everything we can to make sure that these approaches are safe for patients, but also that if they’re better for patients they get to patients as effectively and as efficiently as we possibly can. So we’ll continue to push our investigators to translate the science to patients.
Balintfy: To hear more from Dr. Barker about nanotechnology’s promise, listen to episode 117 of the NIH Research Radio podcast. For more about the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer, visit the website nano.cancer.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Anna Barker
Topic: nanotechnology, cancer, Nanotechnology Alliance for Cancer, medical nanotechnology, cancer research, imaging, detection, drug delivery
NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer