“We want to extend the survival of patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy to give them extra time to spend with their families,” said Nicole Levi-Polyachenko, PhD, assistant professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “Time is probably the most important thing to them.”
Working with Nanotubes
The idea for nanoparticle-induced hyperthermia took root when Levi-Polyachenko, then a graduate student working with David Carroll, PhD, director of the Wake Forest Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, began working with carbon nanotubes and on the photothermal ablation of cancer cells.
After observing the extremely high heat used in photothermal ablation, Levi-Polyachenko had another idea for the carbon nanotubes. She knew that John H. Stewart IV, MD, vice chair of Surgery and associate dean for Clinical Research and Innovation at Wake Forest Baptist, had to warm chemotherapy drugs for patients with abdominal cancers. What if the carbon nanotubes, which provide heat, could be used both to do that and to deliver the chemotherapy?
She brought her idea to Stewart in 2006 and over the next few years, they took it through research and testing in mice, while also working with the commercialization team at Wake Forest Innovations to obtain a patent.
How Nanoparticle-induced Hyperthermia Works
There are 150,000 cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in the United States every year; one-third of those patients die from metastatic disease. Although intravenous chemotherapy can be beneficial, it often doesn’t reach peritoneal metastases in high enough concentrations to be effective. That’s why physicians such as Stewart have long used hyperthermia to treat patients with peritoneal metastases.
The current method, Stewart explained, is to remove the cancer surgically, strip the lining of the abdomen and then run warmed chemotherapeutic drug solutions over the area. By warming the area of disease, the tissue is more receptive to chemotherapy treatment.
But the treatment requires several hours, and targeting a very specific site is difficult, which means the chemotherapy can harm surrounding tissue.
The goal with the carbon nanotubes, Stewart said, is to use them as an antenna for the conduction of heat in a very specific place. The antenna can be rapidly warmed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which means the chemotherapy can be delivered via the nanotube far more quickly and in a very targeted area.
“That’s advantageous for patients because we kill an equivalent number of cells in a shorter amount of time,” Stewart said. “It may offer new therapies to patients who have tumors that are resistant to current treatments. Our goal is to provide an effective treatment of tumors that results in less damage to surrounding tissue.”
Partnerships and Testing
Stewart said the next medical step is to test nanoparticle-induced hyperthermia on larger animals, something that should happen within the year.
“The proof is going to be what really happens in patients,” Stewart said. “If successful, this is something that we anticipate will improve cancer treatment using chemotherapy.”