Recent years have seen nanotechnology applications emerging as a promising area of cancer research and cancer treatment.
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For example, researchers have developed nanovectors that are used to facilitate the delivery of anticancer drugs as well as imaging contrast agents to their specific target. They have also established nanowires and nano cantilever arrays to enable early cancer detection from biological fluids, which has led to an entire sub-sector of nanotherapeutics. These are just a few examples of the growing number of nanodevices that are being developed to help improve cancer prevention, detection, and treatment.
Scientists envision a scenario where non-invasive methods could be used to screen people for various types of cancer to catch it when it is most treatable. They also hope for a scenario where the molecular profiles of existing tumors can be obtained in vivo.
Where the effectiveness of a treatment plan could be monitored in real-time, and where scientists could tailor these plans to meet the individual needs of a patient. Nanotechnology offers the potential to reach these ideal scenarios.
However, several significant challenges remain in the field of cancer nanotechnology. These challenges are worth addressing as nanotechnology provides a huge amount of hope for the future of cancer care.
In vivo detection and monitoring of cancer markers
One key challenge facing cancer technology is developing its use to address a major goal of cancer treatment that continues to remain unachieved. That is of developing a reliable method of early detection of precancerous and neoplastic lesions. Current imaging technologies cannot do this. However, it is believed that nanotechnology may be able to address this challenge.
Presently, scientists are using nanoparticle technologies to help develop contrast agents that could be used to detect smaller and earlier-stage cancer tumors.
So far, nanoparticle probes have been created that may be able to indicate the presence of cancer signatures and markers, however, developing the use of these nanoparticles into a usable, clinical system remains a challenge.
Technology platforms for early detection of cancer biomarkers
The development of a system of detecting cancer from using markers found in serum would be revolutionary to cancer diagnosis and prevention. However, current markers, such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA), are non-specific and therefore have limited effectiveness.
Recently, several nanotechnologies have been developed that may offer feasible approaches to detecting cancer from serum. One such approach is that of nano cantilever, nanowire and nanotube arrays.
The challenge here is that these approaches also face significant limitations, such as needing covalent binding of different antibodies, there also needs to be an improvement in reducing noise from the signal, also, when analyzing proteomic signatures, the identification of signatures within low-concentration molecular species remains a challenge.
Improving the targeting efficacy
The combination of multiple strategies to concentrate injected agents at the location of a tumor has become a focus of new treatments. Known as enhanced permeation and retention (EPR), the strategy that involves particle-mediated delivery by liposomes and it is essential for developing nanovector formulations.
The idea of combining targeting strategies is that it is thought to yield the greatest gains in therapeutic selectivity. However, a particular challenge it faces is that delivering cytotoxic action to tumors might be counterproductive in that it initiates fractionating of the tumor into multiple satellite neoplasms, a process known as diffusional instability.
Nanovectors face the challenge of overcoming this issue, and currently, nanotechnologies are being developed to address this specific problem.
Developing nanoparticles to avoid biological and biophysical barriers
Nanovectored therapeutic and imaging agents, just like conventional ones, face many challenges on their journey to reach a target. Numerous biological and biophysical barriers exist that can prevent these agents from reaching the site and serving their purpose.
Also, research has shown that nanovectors are capable of initiating sensitization reactions.
Studies have demonstrated that antibodies are capable of recognizing carbon nanotubes, showing that an antibody response can be triggered as a result of introducing nanovectored agents. This challenge will have to be overcome to allow the use of nanoparticles in this application to reach its full potential.