Nanomedicines (the application of nano-engineering to drug delivery) have great potential in the treatment of various diseases, including cancer, but their application and benefit has previously been limited. In chemotherapy, nanomedicines are designed to target and kill tumour cells but their effect in the body can still differ from patient to patient; scientists from King’s investigated the use of positron emission tomography (PET) technology to follow how the drugs travel around the body, which could allow treatments to be tailored to patient needs in the future.
With the development of this new imaging method, we aim to provide doctors with a non-invasive tool to select the best treatment for each patient
– Dr Rafael T. M. de Rosales, Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering
Many cancer drugs bind readily to ions of metals such as copper, manganese and zirconium. Using this property, King’s researchers examined how PET scanning techniques (which looks for the emission of positrons by isotopes of these metals) could be used to follow what happened to the nanomedicine drugs as they move through the body, and to determine if they accumulate in the intended organs.
In a mouse model of metastatic breast cancer, the researchers showed that PET imaging, which is already widely used for a variety of other medical imaging purposes, could be effectively used to track the nanomedicines in the body and allowed the detection of large amounts of drug in tumours and metastases. These results suggest this approach could be used to improve the outcomes for patients who might benefit from this treatment, particularly cancer sufferers undergoing chemotherapy.
Senior author of the study Dr Rafael T. M. de Rosales said: ‘With this method we would be able to predict, in patients and before treatment, if a nanomedicine is going to accumulate in the intended target – for example, a tumour – and in sufficient amounts to kill the cells. In addition, we will also be able to find out if the nanomedicine will miss the intended target and potentially end up affecting vital organs. With the development of this imaging method, we would hope to improve the positive outcomes, and to reduce the negative ones, by allowing doctors to plan the right treatment for the patient.’
This research was funded by the CRUK/EPSRC King’s College London and UCL Comprehensive Cancer Imaging Centre, the Wellcome Trust/EPSRC Medical Engineering Centre at King’s College London and the National Institute for Health Research.
Read more about this research on the Economist website.
Read the full scientific research paper
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Image: Mesothelioma lung cancer. Composite image of a computed tomography (CT) scan and a coloured positron emission tomography (PET) scan of the thorax. Centre Jean Perrin/ISM/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY