A new type of cancer treatment could be made possible with the development of a nano-scale device that uses quantum dots to change its shape, a key technology used to shrink tumors and slow progression of cancer.
This new type.
The technology could be used to make tiny nanoparticles that can be inserted into the bloodstream, bypassing blood-clotting proteins that block a key pathway of cancerous cells.
“We’ve been working on this idea for a few years now,” says John O’Neill, a professor of physics at the University of Bristol, UK.
“The first paper we did on this was published in 2015.
It was called Quantum-Dots, and it was basically an idea to build a tiny device that could be inserted directly into the blood and block the blood-forming proteins in tumor cells.”
“What we wanted to do was take a technique that was already existing in nature and turn it into a nanotechnology,” he says.
“There are hundreds of techniques we could use in nanotechnology, but none of them is really practical for cancer treatment.
Quantum dots are very much a new technology that allows us to put these tiny nano-devices into the body.”
“The new technology involves putting a nanoparticle into the patient’s bloodstream, and then we want to change the shape of that nanoparticle so that it can get into the tumor.”
The nanoparticle would then be sent into the brain, where it would be implanted into a patient.
Quantum dot technology has been in the spotlight in recent years as researchers have begun to investigate how nanoparticles can be used in cancer treatment and to deliver therapeutic drugs.
But the technology is still very early days.
In a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology last year, a team of researchers from the University in Pennsylvania and the University College London (UCL) said the technique could be scalable.
However, they were unable to use it to make nano-sized drugs.
The researchers described a “quantum-dots” nanoparticle that could shrink to a size that was about the size of a grain of rice, allowing the tiny particles to be inserted in the bloodstream of a patient and be delivered to the tumor cells.
The team also used a new nanoparticle technique called superconducting quantum dots (SSD) to shrink the nanoparticles to about the thickness of a human hair.
They described how this could allow for “super-fast” and “superthin” nanoparticles, with an ability to cross the blood–brain barrier and travel between cells.
However this is not a direct comparison with the technology used in quantum dots.
“You need a very large quantity of drugs to do this, so it’s a bit like the idea of using the moon to get to Mars, which is very expensive,” says Dr O’Neil.
“In the past, when we have made quantum dots we’ve made them by using the technique of ‘winking’ them in the direction of the cancer cells.
But you need to use a lot more drugs to make these things work.”
The new technique is the work of a group of researchers led by Profs Terence Mottram of the University at Buffalo, US, and David Lips, a PhD student at the Institute for Quantum Materials in Germany.
The scientists say they have successfully demonstrated their technique using nanoparticles from a single virus and have been able to make nanoparticles smaller than a grain, using a method called super-ionization.
“Our results demonstrate that it is possible to make nanotubes from viruses with an efficiency of up to 50 percent,” Prof Mottrams told New Scientist.
“This opens up the possibility of developing novel therapies for many cancers.”
He adds that the researchers have successfully shown that this technique could also be used for drug delivery, which could pave the way for the development and use of nanoparticles for cancer therapy.
In fact, the researchers believe the technology could even be used as a therapeutic tool to prevent metastases from spreading.
“Once we have this technology, it’s possible to use this technology to stop metastases,” Prof Lips said.
If we can use it as a way to prevent these metastases, that would be a very big benefit.”