Researchers at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) are developing a new way to treat cancer. They hope to successfully use lasers to light up tiny nanoparticles and destroy tumours with the ensuing heat.
At the 52nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) in Philadelphia, they described the latest development for this technology: iron-containing Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWCNTs) - threads of hollow carbon that are 10 thousand times thinner than a human hair.
In laboratory experiments, the team demonstrated that by using an MRI scanner, they could image these particles in living tissue, watch as they approached a tumour, zap them with a laser, and destroy the tumour in the process.
The work builds on an experimental technique for treating cancer called laser-induced thermal therapy (LITT), which uses energy from lasers to heat and destroy tumours. LITT works by virtue of the fact that certain nanoparticles like MWCNTs can absorb the energy of a laser and then convert it into heat. If the nanoparticles are zapped while within a tumour, they will boil off the energy as heat and kill the cancerous cells.
The problem with LITT, however, is that while a tumour may be clearly visible in a medical scan, the particles are not. They cannot be tracked once injected, which could put a patient in danger if the nanoparticles were zapped away from the tumour because the aberrant heating could destroy healthy tissue.
Now the team from Wake Forest Baptist has shown for the first time that it is possible to make the particles visible in the MRI scanner to allow imaging and heating at the same time. By loading the MWCNT particles with iron, they become visible in an MRI scanner. Using tissue containing mouse tumours, they showed that these iron-containing MWCNT particles could destroy the tumours when hit with a laser.
"To find the exact location of the nanoparticle in the human body is very important to the treatment. It is really exciting to watch the tumor labeled with the nanotubes begin to shrink after the treatment," said Xuanfeng Ding, M.S., who presented the work in Philadelphia.
The results are part of Ding's ongoing Ph.D. thesis work - a multi-disciplinary project led by Suzy Torti, professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest Baptist, and David Carroll, director of the Wake Forest University Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, that also includes the WFUBMC Departments of Physics, Radiation Oncology, Cancer Biology, and Biochemistry.
A previous study by the same group showed that laser-induced thermal therapy using a closely-related nanoparticle actually increased the long-term survival of mice with tumours. The next step in this project is to see if the iron-loaded nanoparticles can do the same thing.
If the work proves successful, it may one day help people with cancer, though the technology would have to prove safe and effective in clinical trials.
Dan Bourland, associate professor of radiation oncology and Ding's advisor, praised the high quality of Ding's work and said the project is a strong example of today's "team science" that is needed for success in the biomedical fields.