Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology Enabled Cancer Breakthroughs

The potential of nanotechnology for cancer research has been tremendous for the medical field, leading to significant improvements in diagnostics and therapeutics.

Nanotechnology Enabled Cancer Breakthroughs

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Nanoparticles and nanomaterials with remarkable physiochemical properties have been used for applications such as early cancer detection, tumor imaging and drug delivery. This article will provide an overview of how nanotechnology has assisted with breakthroughs in cancer research.


In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported cancer as the leading cause of mortality, with devastating global statistics such as 10 million deaths.

A few risk factors for this disease include smoking, alcohol, low fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity, as well as having a high body mass index. Additionally, infections such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis can also be oncogenic drivers, which may account for 30% of cancer-related cases in low to middle-income countries.

As a result of the high mortality rate associated with most cancer types, early diagnosis has been a high priority for researchers to manage and prevent disease progression and ensure effective treatment. Early cancer detection has been described to significantly improve the 5-year survival rate of patients, enabling a better prognosis.

Nanotechnology Incorporation

Current cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, which can all result in damage to healthy tissue as well as inefficient eradication of the cancerous tissue.

The emergence of nanotechnology has enabled the advancement of the medical field, as it can increase the targetability of therapies to cancerous areas; this would ensure the preservation of healthy tissue – a major concern for conventional cancer treatments. This can result in targeted treatment, decreasing the risk of co-morbidities and increasing patients' survival rate.

Drug Delivery

Nanoparticles are smaller than normal drug molecules, existing within the nanoscale, which is between 1 and 100 nm in size. The use of these particles as nanocarriers to carry drugs can be revolutionary for drug delivery applications within cancer research as drugs within this unique carrier also has the ability to pass the blood-brain barrier, enabling treatment of brain cancers, such as glioblastoma mult iforme.

Additionally, the surface functionalization of these particles, which involves the use of ligands including but not limited to, DNA, peptides and antibodies, can further improve the precise targeting of nanoparticles. This can ensure the particles are directed effectively in vivo to efficiently deliver drugs to the area of concern.

The use of nanoparticles for chemotherapy treatment can greatly advance patient experience and improve both the quality of life of patients due to decreased toxicity as well as increased survival rate.


Nanoparticles can also aid with the early detection of cancer, with these functionalized particles being used as a biosensor for identifying actionable mutations within a sample. This can be critical for the early treatment and management of disease to ensure poor prognoses can be avoided.

Similarly, these nanoparticles can be functionalized with metals to be used to detect tumors during imaging; this can also aid with precise targeting of cancerous tissue to ensure comprehensive treatment.

Single-Cell Analysis

The heterogeneity of cancer cells has been a major hurdle for researchers, with progress being furthered through the development of single-cell analysis via nanoscale technology.

The use of minimally invasive cell nanotools has been developed for medical advancement to comprehend disease heterogeneity at a comprehensive level. This technology includes but is not limited to nanopipettes, hollow atomic force microscope tips, and carbon nanotubes.

These techniques can extract biological information comprising proteins within cells and even messenger RNA, which has enabled further understanding of the underlying biology of a patient's disease, including cancer.

Recent Nanotechnology Research

A university in London, the UK, known as University College London (UCL), along with the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, has recently developed a novel approach for delivering drugs for oncogenic mutations within neuroblastoma using nanotechnology.

Neuroblastoma, which can be described as cancer of immature nerve cells, is the most common type of solid tumor found in children, with ineffective treatments in children over the age of one.

The researchers of this study have developed nanoparticles that utilize the EPR effect of tumors that result in leaky vasculature, to locate the cancerous areas and deliver a small interfering RNA (siRNA) to silence the gene MYCN, which is overexpressed by this tumor type.

Professor Stephen Hart, a researcher from the university, has commented on the future of the study, stating the "findings show that this approach could be a new potential therapy for neuroblastoma. The next steps would be to develop methods of scaling up production to clinical-grade and show that the treatment is safe."

This research may be promising for the field as neuroblastomas are responsible for approximately 15% of cancer-associated mortality in children.

Translational Significance

While nanotechnology has advanced medicine significantly, enabling the analysis of heterogenous diseases as well as early detection of cancer for effective treatment plans, this field is continuously growing, with challenges being researched to ensure safe usage within humans.

The use of nanoparticles can be advantageous for medicine; however, the list of FDA-approved nanoparticle-based drugs is still limited, which can be overcome with further research into the compatibility of human use.

The potential of this field for the future may be revolutionary, with innovative research being conducted to advance the field of cancer research, medicine as a whole, and other industries such as technology.

Continue reading: How Nanotechnology Became a Cancer Research Staple

References and Further Reading

Kemp, J. and Kwon, Y., 2021. Cancer nanotechnology: current status and perspectives. Nano Convergence, 8(1). Available at: 10.1186/s40580-021-00282-7

National Cancer Institute. 2022. Nanotechnology Cancer Therapy and Treatment. [online] Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/nano/cancer-nanotechnology/treatment

Salvador-Morales, C. and Grodzinski, P., 2022. Nanotechnology Tools Enabling Biological Discovery. ACS Nano, 16(4), pp.5062-5084. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.1c10635

Sengupta, S. and Sasisekharan, R., 2007. Exploiting nanotechnology to target cancer. British Journal of Cancer, 96(9), pp.1315-1319. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bjc.6603707

Tagalakis, A., Jayarajan, V., Maeshima, R., Ho, K., Syed, F., Wu, L., Aldossary, A., Munye, M., Mistry, T., Ogunbiyi, O., Sala, A., Standing, J., Moghimi, S., Stoker, A. and Hart, S., 2021. Integrin‐Targeted, Short Interfering RNA Nanocomplexes for Neuroblastoma Tumor‐Specific Delivery Achieve <i>MYCN</i> Silencing with Improved Survival. Advanced Functional Materials, 31(37), p.2104843. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202104843

Who.int. 2022. Cancer. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer

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Marzia Khan

Written by

Marzia Khan

Marzia Khan is a lover of scientific research and innovation. She immerses herself in literature and novel therapeutics which she does through her position on the Royal Free Ethical Review Board. Marzia has a MSc in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine as well as a BSc in Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working in the NHS and is engaging in a scientific innovation program.


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