New research published in the journal Small details how gold nanotubes could be used to treat mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and over 2,600 people are diagnosed with the disease annually in the UK despite the banning of asbestos in 1999. There is concern that continued usage of asbestos around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries, will raise the incidence rate of mesothelioma.
"Mesothelioma is one of the 'hard-to-treat' cancers, and the best we can offer people with existing treatments is a few months of extra survival," said Dr. Arsalan Azad from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge. "There's an important unmet need for new, effective treatments."
The research comes from a team of scientists at the Universities of Cambridge and Leeds who have shown that inserting gold nanotubes inside cancer cells can kill tumor cells. They do so by absorbing light and subsequently heating up to a temperature intolerable to cancer cells.
Professor Stefan Marciniak of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research explained, "The mesothelioma cells 'eat' the nanotubes, leaving them susceptible when we shine a light on them. Laser light is able to penetrate deep into tissue without causing damage to surrounding tissue. It then gets absorbed by the nanotubes, which heat up and, we hope in the future, could be used to cause localized cancer-cell killing."
Nanoagents offer a wide range of potential biological applications but come with their own suitcase of limitations. For example, for this technology to be manufactured at a scale that would be actually helpful for cancer patients’ treatment, the technique needs to be able to be developed at room temperature, which is currently not possible. This will be the aim of the team’s future investigations, along with working to improve the targeting accuracy of cancer cells by the nanotubes so that healthy tissue is unaffected.
Professor Stephen Evans from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds said: "Having control over the size and shape of the nanotubes allows us to tune them to absorb light where the tissue is transparent and will allow them to be used for both the imaging and treatment of cancers. The next stage will be to load these nanotubes with medicines for enhanced therapies."