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← How nanoparticles could change the way we treat cancer

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Showing Revision 5 created 10/19/2019 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. It was a Sunday afternoon
    back in April of this year.
  2. My phone was ringing,
  3. I picked it up.
  4. The voice said, "It's Rebecca.
  5. I'm just calling to invite you
  6. to my funeral."
  7. I said, "Rebecca,
    what are you talking about?"
  8. She said, "Joy, as my friend,
    you have to let me go.
  9. It's my time."
  10. The next day, she was dead.
  11. Rebecca was 31 years old when she died.

  12. She had an eight-year struggle
    with breast cancer.
  13. It came back three times.
  14. I failed her.
  15. The scientific community failed her.
  16. And the medical community failed her.
  17. And she's not the only one.
  18. Every five seconds,
  19. someone dies of cancer.
  20. Today, we medical
    researchers are committed
  21. to having Rebecca and people like her
  22. be one of the last patients that we fail.
  23. The US government alone has spent
    over 100 billion on cancer research

  24. since the 1970s,
  25. with limited progress
    in regards to patient survival,
  26. especially for certain types
    of very aggressive cancers.
  27. So we need a change because, clearly,
  28. what we've been doing so far
    has not been working.
  29. And what we do in medicine
    is to send out firefighters,

  30. because cancer is like a big fire.
  31. And these firefighters
    are the cancer drugs.
  32. But we're sending them out
    without a fire truck --
  33. so without transportation, without ladders
  34. and without emergency equipment.
  35. And over 99 percent of these firefighters
    never make it to the fire.
  36. Over 99 percent of cancer drugs
    never make it to the tumor
  37. because they lack transportation and tools
  38. to take them to the location
    they're aiming for.
  39. Turns out, it really is all about
    location, location, location.
  40. (Laughter)

  41. So we need a fire truck
    to get to the right location.

  42. And I'm here to tell you
    that nanoparticles are the fire trucks.
  43. We can load cancer drugs
    inside nanoparticles,
  44. and nanoparticles
    can function as the carrier
  45. and necessary equipment
  46. to bring the cancer drugs
    to the heart of the tumor.
  47. So what are nanoparticles,

  48. and what does it really mean
    to be nano-sized?
  49. Well, there are many different
    types of nanoparticles
  50. made out of various materials,
  51. such as metal-based nanoparticles
  52. or fat-based nanoparticles.
  53. But to really illustrate
    what it means to be nano-sized,
  54. I took one of my hair strands
  55. and placed it under the microscope.
  56. Now, I have very thin hair,
  57. so my hair is approximately
    40,000 nanometers in diameter.
  58. So this means, if we take
    400 of our nanoparticles
  59. and we stack them on top of each other,
  60. we get the thickness
    of a single hair strand.
  61. I lead a nanoparticle laboratory
    to fight cancer and other diseases

  62. at Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville.
  63. And at Mayo Clinic,
  64. we really have the tools
    to make a difference for patients,
  65. thanks to the generous donations
    and grants to fund our research.
  66. And so, how do these nanoparticles
    manage to transport cancer drugs
  67. to the tumor?
  68. Well, they have an extensive toolbox.
  69. Cancer drugs without nanoparticles
    are quickly washed out of the body

  70. through the kidneys
  71. because they're so small.
  72. So it's like water going through a sieve.
  73. And so they don't really have time
    to reach the tumor.
  74. Here we see an illustration of this.
  75. We have the firefighters,
    the cancer drugs.
  76. They're circulating in the blood,
  77. but they're quickly
    washed out of the body
  78. and they don't really end up
    inside the tumor.
  79. But if we put these cancer drugs
    inside nanoparticles,
  80. they will not get washed out by the body
  81. because the nanoparticles are too big.
  82. And they will continue
    to circulate in the blood,
  83. giving them more time to find the tumor.
  84. And here we see the cancer drug,
    the firefighters,
  85. inside the fire truck, the nanoparticles.
  86. They're circulating in the blood,
  87. they don't get washed out
  88. and they actually end up
    reaching the tumor.
  89. And so what other tools
    do nanoparticles have?

  90. Well, they can protect cancer drugs
    from getting destroyed inside the body.
  91. There are certain very important
    but sensitive drugs
  92. that are easily degraded
    by enzymes in the blood.
  93. So unless they have
    this nanoparticle protection,
  94. they will not be able to function.
  95. Another nanoparticle tool
    are these surface extensions
  96. that are like tiny hands with fingers
    that grab on to the tumor
  97. and fit exactly onto it,
  98. so that when the nanoparticles
    are circulating,
  99. they can attach onto the cancer cells,
  100. buying the cancer drugs
    more time to do their job.
  101. And these are just some of the many tools
    that nanoparticles can have.
  102. And today,

  103. we have more than 10 clinically approved
    nanoparticles for cancer
  104. that are given to patients
    all over the world.
  105. Yet, we have patients,
    like Rebecca, who die.
  106. So what are the major
    challenges and limitations
  107. with currently approved nanoparticles?
  108. Well, a major challenge is the liver,
  109. because the liver is the body's
    filtration system,
  110. and the liver recognizes
    and destroys foreign objects,
  111. such as viruses, bacteria
    and also nanoparticles.
  112. And the immune cells in the liver
    eat the nanoparticles,
  113. preventing them from reaching the tumor.
  114. And here we see an illustration
    where the kidney is no longer a problem,
  115. but these fire trucks, the nanoparticles,
  116. get stuck in the liver
  117. and, actually, less of them
    end up reaching the tumor.
  118. So a future strategy
    to improve nanoparticles

  119. is to temporarily disarm
    the immune cells in the liver.
  120. So how do we disarm these cells?
  121. Well, we looked at drugs
    that were already clinically approved
  122. for other indications
  123. to see if any of them
    could stop the immune cells
  124. from eating the nanoparticles.
  125. And unexpectedly,
    in one of our preclinical studies,
  126. we found that a 70-year-old malaria drug
  127. was able to stop the immune cells
    from internalizing the nanoparticles
  128. so that they could escape the liver
  129. and continue their journey
    to their goal, the tumor.
  130. And here we see the illustration
    of blocking the liver.
  131. The nanoparticles don't go there,
  132. and they instead end up in the tumor.
  133. So, sometimes, unexpected connections
    are made in science
  134. that lead to new solutions.
  135. Another strategy
    for preventing nanoparticles

  136. from getting stuck in the liver
  137. is to use the body's own nanoparticles.
  138. Yes -- surprise, surprise.
  139. You, and you and you, and all of us
    have a lot of nanoparticles
  140. circulating in our bodies.
  141. And because they're part of our bodies,
  142. the liver is less likely
    to label them as foreign.
  143. And these biological nanoparticles
    can be found in the saliva,
  144. in the blood, in the urine,
    in pancreatic juice.
  145. And we can collect them from the body
  146. and use them as fire trucks
    for cancer drugs.
  147. And in this case,
  148. the immune cells in the liver
    are less likely to eat
  149. the biological nanoparticles.
  150. So we're using
    a Trojan-horse-based concept
  151. to fool the liver.
  152. And here we see
    the biological nanoparticles
  153. circulating in the blood.
  154. They don't get recognized by the liver,
  155. and they end up in the tumor.
  156. And in the future,
  157. we want to exploit
    nature's own nanoparticles
  158. for cancer drug delivery,
  159. to reduce side effects and save lives
  160. by preventing the cancer drugs
    from being in the wrong location.
  161. However, a major problem has been:

  162. How do we isolate these biological
    nanoparticles in large quantities
  163. without damaging them?
  164. My lab has developed
    an efficient method for doing this.
  165. We can process large quantities
    of liquids from the body
  166. to produce a highly concentrated,
    high-quality formulation
  167. of biological nanoparticles.
  168. And these nanoparticles
    are not yet in clinical use,
  169. because it takes an average of 12 years
  170. to get something from the lab
  171. to your medicine cabinet.
  172. And this is the type of challenge
    that requires teamwork

  173. from scientists and physicians,
  174. who dedicate their lives to this battle.
  175. And we keep going,
    thanks to inspiration from patients.
  176. And I believe that if we keep working
    on these nanomedicines,
  177. we will be able to reduce harm
    to healthy organs,
  178. improve quality of life
  179. and save future patients.
  180. I like to imagine

  181. that if these treatments
    had been available for Rebecca,
  182. that call from her
  183. could have been an invitation
  184. not to her funeral,
  185. but her wedding.
  186. Thank you.

  187. (Applause)