Mesothelioma Cancer Cells May Soon Glow Offering Hope for Early Detection
Researchers at Cornell University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) have announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first-in-human clinical trial of a new technology. Known as “Cornell Dots,” the unique nanoparticles glow brightly and can light up cancer cells in PET-optical imaging. This technology is a breakthrough for cancer diagnostic tools, and offers hope for early diagnosis of mesothelioma and many other cancers.
Currently, there is no reliable method for diagnosing mesothelioma until after symptoms appear and it has progressed to an advanced stage leaving the patient with life-threatening complications, and limited treatment options. Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, can be treated with some success through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, however, the survival rate is often less than one year. Early detection, however, can positively influence a patient’s survival by increasing treatment options and improving their quality of life while battling the cancer
The findings, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, explain that although other similar nanoparticles have been identified, only Cornell Dots met the criteria needed to receive the FDA approval for an investigational new drug of its class. The dots are shown to be “tumor selective, nontoxic, and exhibit favorable targeting and clearance profiles.”
The ultra small, cancer-targeted, multimodal silica nanoparticles are coated with polyethylene glycol (PEG) so the body will not recognize them as foreign substance. The dots then stick to tumor cells through organic molecules that attach to the PEG shell. When the infrared light hits the dots, they “serve as a beacon” to identify the targeted cells.
The researchers say the new technology “enables visualization during surgical treatment, showing invasive or metastatic spread to lymph nodes and distant organs, and can show the extent of treatment response.”
The Cornell Dots were first developed in 2005 by Hooisweng Ow, a coauthor of the paper, and Ulrich Wiesner, Cornell Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. The two have co-founded the company Hybrid Silica Technologies (HST) to commercialize the invention to bring the innovation to the market. Cornell and MSKCC are working with HST to provide a breakthrough in cancer care.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer diagnosed in close to 3,000 Americans each year. Most at-risk for the disease are trade workers such as insulators, plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, sheet metal workers, auto mechanics, refinery and factory workers and shipyard workers. The disease has an extended latency period and typically strikes 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. Those exposed to asbestos are encouraged to consult with a knowledgeable physician for a complete physical and mesothelioma screening tests. Early diagnosis of mesothelioma is necessary for the best prognosis.