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Engineers Search for a Tiny Cure for a Big Problem

Jul 07, 2020   |   SPIE

"Catalina-Paula Spatarelu is a graduate research assistant in the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. She wants to increase the likelihood that the drugs get to the cancer site without affecting other organs in the body. And then she wants visual confirmation that they got there. To accomplish this feat, she designed a nanodroplet with as many functions as a Swiss Army knife," reports SPIE in an article about the potential of nanoparticles to treat cancer.

... "Spatarelu thinks the nanodroplet system has a lot of promise. 'We're trying to avoid having drugs spread everywhere in the body, because with systematic chemo therapeutics, it can't distinguish between cancer tissue and normal tissue. So you're limited in how much you can use,' she says. 'But if we can get more of the drug in the tumor, then we can potentially increase that dose and be more aggressive when we need to.'

"Spatarelu likes to remind people that cancer cells are delicate things. They can be killed by simply overhydrating them in a petri dish—and they can also be killed by heat. While she is looking to nanodroplets to deliver drugs to a tumor site, other researchers are looking for ways to cook the little critters. A mere 43°C (109°F) will kill a cancer cell. Unfortunately, that temp is also high enough to damage healthy cells."

... "[Geoff Luke, Spatarelu's lab supervisor at Dartmouth] and Spatarelu are just beginning [the journey from lab to clinic] by testing the nanodroplet drug delivery system in mice. 'Each mouse has two different tumors on it. All the nanoparticles go everywhere,' explains Luke. 'They go to both tumors, but we only activate the droplets to make the tumor more permeable on one side. And then we hope to see that we do indeed get significantly more [drug] accumulation in that one side.'"

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