Doctors Are Outsmarting Cancer With Tiny, High-Tech Tools

These trial drugs are 1/1000th the width of a human hair, gentle on the body, and remarkably affordable

Choosing the right drug to fight cancer is extremely difficult, and there’s a big price to pay for making the wrong choice. All cancer drugs have side effects—many weaken the body—and time spent taking the wrong drug is time that allows the cancer to grow and spread unchecked. Fortunately, chemical engineers have developed a method to combat this, sending nanoscale-sized particles packed with potential drug options inside patients’ tumors to test out which one will be the most effective, with the least amount of harm.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]A nanoparticle allows us to load miniscule amounts of medicine.[/quote]

Created by Avi Schroeder and his team of colleagues at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, this highly technical solution scales up our current system for treating cancer—which essentially boils down to a doctor making an educated guess about which drug might work best—then tests five or 10 drugs at once to find the best option with little to no consequences. To build these tiny trial drugs, Schroeder’s team first creates nanosized particles of each drug they’d like to screen. At 1/1,000th the width of a human hair, there’s no danger that they’ll have any major effect on the body.

“This is only possible when you use nanotechnology. A nanoparticle allows us to load miniscule amounts of medicine,” says Schroeder. But the nanoparticles aren’t useful to anyone when injected into the body all on their own: They are so small, they can’t be detected using any kind of chemical analysis tool that exists, which makes it nearly impossible to measure their impact. So Schroeder’s researchers came up with a novel solution, attaching each different nanoscale-scale drug to a unique strand of DNA. Generated by outside labs that build customized DNA sequences to order, they’re easy for doctors to spot in a genetic lineup and, thus, simple to analyze.

Once this process is complete, the nanoparticles—which are designed with an outer layer that looks like water to the immune system, keeping them from being attacked—are injected into a patient’s bloodstream. Because hungry tumors feed on blood vessels, the nanoparticles quickly and safely end up exactly where they need to go. Over a period of about 24 hours, they start killing (or not killing) cells inside the tumor. The drug that causes the most damage is determined to be the winner.

To track all that microscopic destruction, doctors must take a biopsy of a patient’s tumor about two days after initial injection. The tissue sample is disassembled into individual cells, some of which will be alive and some of which will be dead. Inside the dead cells—which have died because the medicine was effective—researchers locate those unique DNA strands that mark the treatment that killed them. Sometimes, more than one medicine proves effective, which makes the trial run even more useful.

“Let’s say we know a patient will have horrible side effects from one medicine and not the other and we know both will be effective. We can choose a medicine that will be preferable for the quality of life,” says Schroeder.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]We can choose a medicine that will be preferable for the quality of life.[/quote]

So far, this system has only been tested in mice, but in February, the technology is set to begin its transition from lab to clinic, where it will undergo trials on humans. Once it’s ready for prime time, Schroeder says the new testing technology will not only help save lives and increase the quality of those lives, but also should save quite a bit of money.

One current system for pretesting drugs, for example, requires growing a patient's tumor inside a mouse model, then giving the drugs to the mice to see if they fight the cancer. This process can cost tens of thousands of dollars (depending on how many drugs are tested) and can take many months. Schroeder estimates that Technion’s system could deliver results to patients within a week at a cost of about $5,000.

Narrowing down the safest and most affordable treatment “is a problem that doesn't have a current solution,” says Schroeder. “We’re really trying to do our best to save the patient and grant them a high quality of life.”

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

The phrase "stay in your lane" is usually lobbed at celebrities who talk about politics on Twitter by people who disagree with them. People in the sports world will often get a "stick to sports" when they try to have an opinion that lies outside of the field of play.

Keep Reading

The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.

A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.

Keep Reading

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.

Keep Reading