Nanotechnology is in the news again with a report that a new technique can determine within eight hours whether chemotherapy is effective for a patient. For mesothelioma patients, and all cancer patients, being able to quickly assess whether a treatment is effective can mean the difference in survival.
According to a March 28 press release from Brigham and Women’s Hospital announcing the findings, a team of researchers found that they can deliver a nanoparticle of a potential cancer treatment that will fluoresce green if the cancer cells die from the drug. The results rely on the enzyme caspase that is activated when a cell dies.
“We can determine if a cancer therapy is effective within hours of treatment,” said co- author Shiladitya Sengupta, PhD, a principal investigator in BWH’s Division of Bioengineering. “Our long-term goal is to find a way to monitor outcomes very early so that we don’t give a chemotherapy drug to patients who are not responding to it.”
One test used paclitaxel chemotherapy on a prostate cancer line. The test realized “an approximately 400 percent increase in fluorescence” in the tumors that were responsive to paclitaxel compared to those cells that were paclitaxel-resistent. The technology was also successful for monitoring the effectiveness of immunotherapy. The researchers yielded “a significant increase in the fluorescent signal” in tumors sensitive to the anti-PD-L1 nanoparticles after five days.
Determining the appropriate cancer treatment for a patient is a difficult and complex decision for patients and their oncologists. Finding an effective mesothelioma treatment is even more challenging due to the relative rarity of the disease. However, the ability to detect responders, as the researchers refer to an effective treatment, and non-responders, in real-time can spare patients needless treatment and allow the oncologist to quickly adjust the treatment protocol without losing precious time.
“Current techniques, which rely on measurements of the size or metabolic state of the tumor, are sometimes unable to detect the effectiveness of an immunotherapeutic agent as the volume of the tumor may actually increase as immune cells begin to flood in to attack the tumor,” said co- author Ashish Kulkarni, an instructor in the Division of Biomedical Engineering at BWH. “Reporter nanoparticles, however, can give us an accurate read out of whether or not cancer cells are dying.”
The researchers’ next step is to assess the safety and efficacy on humans. There was no indication as to the timeline of when this research can move into a clinical setting.
Brigham and Women’s is home to the International Mesothelioma Program. Managing over 300 mesothelioma consultations per year, the International Mesothelioma Program is the largest program of its kind in the world. The Program has a mission “to offer state-of-the-art treatment to patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma.”
The full report of the BWH study can be found in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.