Nanotube Cancer Treatment Shows Promise
John Kanzius was a 58-year-old father of two when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia that, according to doctors, only left him with nine months to live. Instead of resigning to his fate, Kanzius, a retired electrical engineer and TV and radio station owner, built and continues to develop one of the most promising new techniques to kill cancer cells. Metal heats when exposed to radio waves, so his idea was to infuse tumors with microscopic metal particles, expose the body to radiofrequency energy, and hopefully kill the tumors when the metal inside them heats up from the radio wave exposure.
Kanzius’s technique proved highly effective in early preclinical trials at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In lab experiments, two lines of liver cancer cells and one pancreatic cancer cell line were completely destroyed after being injected with nanotubes and exposed to radiofrequency energy. Carbon nanotubes are hollow cylinders of pure carbon that measure about a billionth of a meter, or one nanometer, across. A similar technique called radiofrequency ablation has been used for a number of years to treat tumors in the body. However, the novel technique developed by Kanzius makes radiofrequency cancer treatment much less damaging to surrounding tissue.
One problem, unfortunately, is that scientists don’t have an accurate method for targeting cancer cells. Researchers are currently in the process of searching for acceptable molecular targets in the tumor tissue onto which the nanotubes can bind. It has been difficult to find targets unique to cancer cells and researchers must resolve this issue before the nanotube technique can live up to its promise of being an effective and noninvasive procedure. For these reasons, the scientists believe that clinical trials are still three to four years away.
Stem cell research is currently in the spotlight, but this new technique reminds us both of the promise of other treatments under development, as well as the potential for nanotechnology in the medical sciences. The treatment, even though still at the preclinical stage, is evidence that even far-fetched scientific ideas can and do become successful.
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