A new study by researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center are exploring different ways to jump start a “sleeping immune system”. What they have found in prior research is that when the body starts producing cancerous cells or tumors, the tumors will shield themselves from discovery by tricking the immune system into thinking they are normal. Thus stopping the immune system from invading the deadly cells and destroying them. Meanwhile, the cancer cells are dividing and spreading aggressively throughout the body without notice.
What the researchers are looking into is the use of nanoparticles to essentially wake up the immune system so that it will have the ability to recognize the mutated cells and attack. They suggest one way to do this is by using nano particles because they are so unimaginably small that they can possibly penetrate through the “shielded” cancer cells. Once inside the cell the nano particles could then essentially send an alert back to the immune system that there is in fact something wrong with the cells.
Nanoparticles are thought as a potential candidate for cancer cell invasion because they are “stealthy” enough in size and also have the ability to partner with other therapeutic agents like antibodies, drugs, metallic particles and laboratory-made viruses. Their ability to partner with other agents yields the ability to carry in large payloads of a variety of different agents. The variety of agents all have different effects but once inside the cell, they all function in their specific ways to activate and strengthen the body’s immune system response to cancerous cells. Ultimately by invading the cell by way of these stealthy nanoparticles, the agents that are packaged and delivered within the nano particles can alert the immune system to the threat. The immune system then has the ability to recognize a distortion and attack the cancer.
This discovery has led to further research into nanoparticles being tested in combination with heat. Researchers are experimenting with an inactive metallic nanoparticle that contains iron, silver, or gold. Once the nanoparticles transport the agents into the cancer cell, it is absorbed and then the nanoparticle itself can be activated using magnetic energy, infrared light, or radio waves. This activation of the cell causes heat and kills cancer cells, but also prompts the immune system to kill other cancer cells that have not been heated by the process.
Of course, as is the case with all cancer research, the hurdle is to not damage or kill the healthy cells while the destruction of the cancer cells is occurring. This is where the importance of waking up the immune system is so very crucial. There are many studies that have found different ways to destroy cancer cells, but the issue always arises as to how to not kill the good cells at the same time. By being able to effectively wake up and alert the immune system to assist in the process, the body can work simultaneously with the agents treating the diseased cells and minimize the destruction of a persons healthy cells.
* Nanoparticle Artwork courtesy of Laguna Design