This Nanoparticle System May Lead To A Cure For Cancer

Angela Zhang Nanoparticle System

Photo: Screenshot via CBS News

There’s a potential cure for cancer—and it was created by a high school senior.
Angela Zhang, a teenager who recently graduated from high school, may have found a cure for cancer. Over the past few years, she has researched cancer stem cells (CSCs), those pesky cells that are responsible for causing tumour growth yet are often resistant to current cancer therapies.

Zhang found a way to target and kill these CSCs with a revolutionary new nanoparticle system that she likens to a Swiss Army Knife because of its many functions: It is capable of targeting tumors, eradicating cancer cells, and monitoring treatment responses all at the same time.

Click here to go straight to the slides showing how the treatment works >
She designed a gold and iron oxide-based nanoparticle system that attaches to tumors; the gold and iron-oxide components allow the tumors to be visible on MRIs. Once the tumors are visible, they can be targeted individually, and Zhang’s system allows for a controlled release of the cancer drug salinomycin to the site of the tumour.

This revolutionary new treatment would kill the specific cancer cells while leaving surrounding healthy cells unharmed. That would vastly improve the quality of life for cancer patients, meaning no more debilitating chemotherapy treatments, for example.

Her project is called Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled Drug Releasing Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells, and she won $100,000–first place–in the 2011 Siemens Competition in maths, Science & Technology for her research.

“At the heart of my nanosystem is the drug delivery capabilities,” Angela wrote to us in an email. “My nanoparticle was designed to be preloaded with a cancer drug that would be released directly and selectively at the tumour site to eradicate cancer cells. The greatest advantage that a drug delivery system has over many current cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, which tends to attack cancer and healthy cells, is minimization of toxicity to non malignant/healthy cells.”

She said that the hope of the project was to “personalise cancer treatment” by improving treatment efficacy while improving the patient’s quality of life during cancer treatment.

When the system was tested on mice, the tumors almost completely disappeared. It may be years before this treatment could be applied to humans; Zhang told the Wall Street Journal that it could take 25 years between clinical trials and other steps before her research will help patients.

Still, the results are promising and give many cancer patients something to look forward to.

Zhang's idea was to mix cancer medicine and a polymer.

Source: CBS News.

This mix of polymers and cancer medicines would then attach to nanoparticles.

Source: CBS News.

The nanoparticles would then attach to cancer cells.

Source: CBS News.

Once the nanoparticles were attached to the cancer cells, that would mean that the cancer cells would be visible and easier to find.

Source: CBS News.

The individual cancer cells would now show up on an MRI so doctors could see exactly where the tumors are.

Source: CBS News.

Since the tumors are now visible, Zhang decided to aim an infrared light at each tumour.

Source: CBS News.

The infrared light would then melt the polymer and release the Salinomycin cancer medicine.

Source: CBS News.

The released medicine would target the tumour specifically and kill the cancer.

Source: CBS News.

This type of treatment would kill the cancer cells while leaving surrounding healthy cells completely unharmed, forever revolutionizing cancer treatment.

Source: CBS News.

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