Cancer, in most cases, is still treated the same way as it was a few decades ago – with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. If a patient is lucky, treatment is successful, but due to the pervasive nature of the disease, it often returns. For the fortunate ones who “beat” cancer, they may still be left dealing with side effects from radiation and chemotherapy.
Promising new research is underway that might change that. Sakhrat Khizroev, an electrical engineer, physicist and professor at the College of Engineering & Computing and the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, in collaboration with other co-inventors, has developed a new physical model to describe how nanotechnology can be used to treat cancer.
“The scientific community is realizing that the way we have been treating cancer is not the optimal way,” Khizroev says. “It’s important to look more at the fundamental level of treatment, which, besides biotechnology and immunology, includes physics and an understanding of how atoms and molecules interact with each other and with the whole system. Harmoniously crossing expertise in multiple STEM disciplines is the way to go.”
If you don’t treat the disease at the most fundamental level, adds Khizroev, you can’t eliminate cancer completely, and it will often come back.
Working together with scientists and medical researchers at University of Miami, Moffitt Cancer Center, University of California, and University of Notre Dame, Khizroev, and his research team, are using nanotechnology as an option to fight cancer in humans in the near future. The technology has already proved successful in treating certain cancers in mice. Currently, they are applying this nanotechnology to cure brain tumors, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and others. Here’s how it works:
Engineers prepare tiny particles known as magnetoelectric nanoparticles, or MENs, which have an electrical charge that allows them to uniquely locate specific cancer cells in the body. Unlike any other nanoparticles, MENs lets researchers use externally applied magnetic fields to control intrinsic electric fields at the sub-cellular level, and thus provide a way to simultaneously “see” and treat cancer cells.
Current cancer treatments have limitations. Patients develop multidrug resistance, and chemotherapy may stop working at some point during the course of treatment. These nanoparticles are so tiny that doctors can send them in, non-invasively, as many times as needed with no lasting side effects.
The research has been partially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Neuroscience Centers of Florida Foundation (NSCFF), Department of Defense, and National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a combined amount of approximately $1 million.
Emmanuel Stimphil, one of the researchers working toward his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, finds inspiration in the possibility of a cure. “Cancer is not biased. I have not lost anyone to cancer, but it can strike anyone, and knowing that is what drives me,” Stimphil says. “Ultimately, this technology may help families that have lost someone to cancer, and I would be doing my part to make the world a better place.”
To describe the fundamental physics that underlies the new treatment, this April, Khizroev and Stimphil, along with research colleagues – Abhignyan Nagesetti, Rakesh Guduru, Tiffanie Stewart, Alexandra Rodzinski, and Ping Liang – published the paper, “Physics consideration in targeted anticancer drug delivery by magnetoelectric nanoparticles,” in the prestigious journal, Applied Physics Reviews. Click here to read the article.
“Cancer is a disease malfunction that takes place at the most fundamental level,” Khizroev says. “The treatment also needs to be done at the fundamental level.”
The next step for the team is more animal studies, and then preclinical studies. Within a few years, the researchers hope to be offering human clinical trials, and bringing society closer to a cure.