Use of theranostic nanoparticles for cancer treatment drugs
By Archita Datta Majumdar

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In ongoing global research for combating cancer, new theories constantly surface to fuel newer dimensions of treatment and therapy. Perhaps none has generated as much hope as the latest theory of using nanoparticles to create new-age cancer drugs. A recent study by Swedish scientists reveals the possibilities hitherto unthought of — effective delivery of cancer drugs to the tumor cells through "theranostic nanoparticles," a method that combines therapy and diagnostics in one single nanomaterial.


Do you think nanoparticles will lead to safer, more effective cancer treatment?
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In simpler terms, theranostic means delivering therapy and imaging agents to the same location through a single delivery platform powered by nanotechnology. This not only makes treatment more focused and effective, but also makes drug delivery more manageable and easy to monitor.

The use of nanotechnology in biological imaging is not new. Nanostructures have been used in pharma science so medicines can be prevented from acting until they reach the desired location, making healing more effective and with fewer side effects. Theranostic treatment simply combines these features into one delivery system.

This will open new avenues of research along with the treatment. Even though cancer treatment and therapy have come a long way, there are still gray areas that need special focus — especially pancreatic cancers, brain tumors and certain breast cancer cases that have consistently resisted medication and chemotherapy. For now, in the first stages, scientists filled these nanoparticles with chemotherapeutic doxorubicin, the drug used in bladder, ovaries, lungs and breast cancer treatment. Experiments conducted show their fast-action therapy through the rapid destruction of the cancer cells.

How does the theranostic theory work?

Theranostic nanoparticles spontaneously form out of tailored macromolecules or polymers. To ensure the nanoparticles are properly filled with the drug, it is important to maintain the right balance between the hydrophilic (that which attracts water) and hydrophobic (that which repels water) components.

Added to these is a naturally occurring isotope 19F (fluorine) in high concentration, which enables the nanoparticles to show up on MR tomograms clearly, making them easy to track. This tracking phase is extremely important. Through tracking and monitoring of the drug, scientists can now garner accurate information on how effective the drug is, how well the cells are responding or if further dosage is required.

The study primarily targeted breast cancer cells wherein the nanoparticles would deliver the drug to the target location and minimize the spread and effect of the damaging drug to the other healthy parts of the body. Diagnostically, the nanoparticles can be used to detect exact location and size of tumors through MRI scans, making treatment faster and more accurate.

What makes these nanoparticles even more astounding is the way they are made. Scientists wanted to make them work on cancer cells but without harming the body, which is a common cause of concern in cancer treatment. The particles are made of biodegradable and nontoxic building blocks that would have no additional health risks for the patient.

The combined benefits of theranostic nanoparticle usage, precise drug delivery and faster diagnosis, will pave the way for better cancer therapy and more accurate treatment. Scientists hope advanced study in future can lead to the use of nanoparticles for a tailored chemotherapy mechanism.

Paving the way for more path-breaking therapies, theranostic drug delivery will be an important tool for personalized medicine in future. The simultaneous steps of delivery and monitoring can be used for more tailored therapies for specific patients or group of patients. Selective uptake in tumors can be increased by changing the size or introducing ionic groups on the nanoparticles.

Archita Datta Majumdar has been writing for various industries for more than 14 years. She has contributed articles to The Economic Times, the leading financial daily of India, and she loves research, business analysis and knowledge management, which paves the way for a steep learning curve.