Researchers have found a way to soften malignant tumors with heat, making them more vulnerable for therapeutic agents to work.
In a study published in the journal Theranostics, researchers from the Paris Diderot University, the Paris Descartes University, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, and the French National Center for Scientific Research detailed how nanohyperthermia works as a potential cancer therapy by making tumors more receptive to treatment without damaging healthy cells in the surrounding area.
The Problem: Tumor Stiffening
Tumors grow stiff as they develop because collagen fibers and the extracellular matrix holding together cells from the same tissue are abnormally organized. Aside from being a sign of malignancy, stiffening also aids in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Not to mention that the extracellular matrix acts as a physical barrier limiting penetration for therapeutic agents to work.
Efforts have been in place to disrupt the tumor structure but these bring both the good and the bad. As the extracellular matrix is common to both healthy and cancerous cells, targeting it is like holding a double-edged sword.
The Solution: Nanohyperthermia
To carry out nanohyperthermia, or the application of localized heat for three minutes at 125.6 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers injected carbon nanotubes directly into the tumors. The carbon nanotubes were then activated using near-infrared light.
Tumor stiffness was assessed using ultrasound shear wave elastography, which uses secondary waves produced by the ultrasound in mapping tissue elasticity. After two consecutive sessions a day apart, tumors part of the study initially got more rigid but gradually softened eventually over the course of 10 days or so after nanohyperthermia was used.
Because the process disrupts the microenvironment of a tumor, nanohyperthermia holds promise as an adjuvant treatment alongside chemotherapy. Since the near-infrared light only affects areas covered by the carbon nanotubes, it doesn't present a threat to surrounding healthy cells.
Researchers for the current study include: Florence Gazeau, Gilles Renault, Jean-Luc Gennisson, Alberto Bianco, Cécilia Ménard-Moyon, Foucault Chamming, Sharuja Natkhunarajah, Carmen Marchiol, Jelena Kolosnjaj-Tabi, Thomas Guilbert, Amanda A. K. Silva, and Iris Marangon.
Cancer Treatment Research
Aside from healthy cells being collateral damage, treating cancer is tricky because of the sheer number of genetic mutations present in tumors. In fact, one study said that over 2,000 genetic mutations can be present in tumors of the same cancer type.
The good news is, cancer treatment research is making strides, resulting in discoveries that improve treatment options for patients. In one, scientists from the National Foundation for Cancer Research uncovered a new drug agent for glioblastoma multiforme, the deadliest form of brain cancer. Thanks to its chemical properties, the new drug agent is capable of preventing glioblastoma multiforme cells from invading others after radiation therapy. When used in conjunction with radiation treatment, it improved survival rates in pre-clinical models.
In another study, City of Hope researchers were able to show that CAR-T therapy was effective against recurrent multifocal glioblastoma. In this case, CAR-T was designed to target cells containing the antigen IL13Rα2, which is common in brain cancer.
Other treatment options currently available to cancer patients are: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.