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Nanomedicine meets lung cancer at U of M

Photo: Flickr user theilr

At the University’s new AeroCore Center, the medicine is small but its potential is huge.

At the AeroCore Center, researchers from the College of Pharmacy, Masonic Cancer Center, College of Science and Engineering, and Medical School have partnered to find a better way to eradicate dangerous lung cancer cells with a simple process: inhalation of nanoparticles.

Okay, maybe their solution isn’t so simple.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women nationwide, accounting for 28% of all cancer deaths expected this year.

At AeroCore, U of M researchers are looking to nanoparticles and the concept of hyperthermia, or the process of raising heat levels to a point that threatens cell survival, for help in killing cancerous cells that have formed in the lungs. By heating iron oxide nanoparticles to temperatures higher than 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers have been able to effectively kill cancer cells in preliminary mouse-model trials.

But, in order to heat nanoparticles inside the lungs, the nanoparticles must first get there, so AeroCore researchers developed an aerosol inhalant that, with just a few deep breaths from the patient, can carry iron oxide nanoparticles to disease sites inside the lungs.

Then, in a tactic similar to a magician’s trick, a wave of a magnet outside the body, over the area where a tumor has formed, the iron oxide particles become agitated.  They heat up and become hot enough that they’re able to kill many of the cancerous cells around them.

From there, cells in the body called macrophages clear the dead cells and iron oxide particles. Over time, iron oxide particles are converted into iron salts that the body can absorb or clear.

For University researchers, the next step in their research is to advance the system to a point where it can completely clear a site of cancer.

“We have not yet successfully eliminated 100 percent of the cancerous cells in an area,” said lead researcher on the project Jayanth Panyam, Ph.D., co-director of the Department of Defense-funded AeroCore Center and associate professor in the College of Pharmacy. “Without all of the cancer cells gone, the cancer will continue to come back. But, what we have now does serve to help eliminate a significant portion of the cancer.”

Want to learn more about nanomedicine and ongoing University of Minnesota projects?

Check on this recent Huffington Post article on the state of research featuring J. Jeffrey McCullough, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School.

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