A new tool against cancer: Laser and nanoscale materials

Pairing light-sensitive nanoscale biomaterials with glycoprotein seems to work.
Ameya Paleja
Artist's depiction of gold nanoparticles being used to treat cancerous cells with laserMeletios Verras/ iStock

A team of multinational researchers has proposed that lasers combined with nanotechnology could be used to treat cancers in the near future, a press release said

A wide range of new technologies are being trialed in attempts to beat cancer. From creating vaccines using the latest mRNA technology to engineering cells that can attack tumors, scientists are trying different methods to tackle the deadly disease. The latest approach involves the use of lasers. 

Phototherapies for cancerous cells

The idea isn't entirely new and has been used before. Lasers can be used to generate heat at tumor sites that can kill the unwanted cells in a method called photothermal therapy (PTT). Alternatively, in photodynamic therapy (PDT) a laser is used to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), a group of hyper-reactive chemicals that are deadly for any cell type, including cancerous ones. 

The effectiveness of the laser therapy is determined by the penetration depth of the laser in the tissue which is in turn determined by the shape and radius of the beam, wavelength of light used, and the intensity of the laser. 

The new approach that researchers are now suggesting is pairing up these methods with nanoscale biomaterials that can make the therapies highly accurate and targeted. These nanoscale materials need to be photo-sensitive and work at specific wavelengths to enable greater control of the methods during therapies.

Nanomaterial as delivery systems

Interestingly, the nanoscale material is not just limited to being a light receiver in the process but can also be repurposed to perform other tasks. The researchers propose that the surfaces could be used to deliver chemotherapeutic drugs to tumor sites. When used in PDT, the material could also deliver antibiotics so as to prevent bacterial infection at the site where ROS have been put to work. 

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The researchers also cite an application where gold nanorods were used as nanoscale material and a glycoprotein from the rabies virus was attached to their surface. Since the rabies virus is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier during the normal course of infection, the gold nanorods also managed to cross over, after which PTT was performed close to tumor cells. 

In the future, the technology could also be deployed to treat nonhealing ulcers, atherosclerosis, and even dental infections, the researchers said. 

Details of the proposals can be found in the journal Applied Physics Reviews.

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