Nanotechnology being used in the fight against cancer

Researchers from Nazarbayev University are studying the use of nanomaterials as a form of cancer treatment that could be used to complement traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world with diagnoses and death rates rising year after year. Currently, there are several well-known techniques for cancer treatments including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. However, these treatments have a number of limitations and side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, which means alternative approaches are needed.

Researcher Zhannat Ashikbayeva, Professor Daniele Tosi, and Professor Vassilis Inglezakis, conducted experimental research focused on the application of nanomaterials in thermal ablation therapy. Thermal ablation is a technique used in cancer therapy to eliminate cancerous cells or tissue by applying external electromagnetic waves to locally increase the temperature.

However, the choice of a suitable heat delivery route to the cancerous tissue is a problem as existing methods show difficulty in differentiating between tumours and surrounding healthy tissue, leading to the damage of non-cancerous cells. The use of nanomaterials is an attractive solution as the nanomaterials can trigger heat increase in specific tumour regions. This allows the therapy to target and destroy the cancer cells specifically without adversely affecting healthy surrounding cells. This technique is flexible, low cost, and minimally invasive.

Prof. Inglezakis and his research team also work on a European-funded project called Nanomed. The objective of this project is to use nanomaterials for the treatment of very serious health conditions associated with acute and chronic exposure to external radiation and toxic substances, including cancer treatment solutions. Prof. Inglezakis, Associate Professor of Chemical & Materials Engineering, said: “The goal is not to replace existing therapies but complement in a way that is beneficial to the patient. This should reduce side-effects and help to remove harmful by-products that are produced when patients undergo traditional cancer treatments.”

At present, scientists have been successful in destroying cancer cells through in vitro ablation tests using animal organs and in removing toxic substances from mice test subjects, but the translation to commercial clinical use has not yet occurred. The researchers of this project, along with Nazarbayev University, aim to stimulate further research into nanomaterials for cancer treatments through the Nanomed project.