Glowing Dots are Showing Cancer

Nanoparticle technology may enhance cancer diagnosis and treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Nanoparticles are measured in billionths of meters - about the size of three atoms stacked side by side. These invisible specks may change the face of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the study of a new medical technology called "Cornell Dots." These are glowing nanoparticles that can light up cancer cells during PET optical imaging scans.

"New technology lights up cancer cells in the body."

The FDA approved these advanced, ultra small, cancer-targeting particles as an "investigational new drug" for a first-in-human clinical trial. The paper describing this technology discussed it being used in a model of human melanoma.

Cornell Dots are essentially glass balls containing dyes that are tiny enough to move around the body and pass out through the urine. The dots are coated with a special substance - polyethylene glycol (PEG) - so the body doesn't reject them as foreign invaders.

Molecules can be attached to the dots to make them stick to tumor cells or even specific places within tumors. Then when they're exposed to the light used in PET scans, the dots start to glow and become like spotlights pinpointing where the cancer cells are.

One of many advantages of Cornell dots is that they remain in the body long enough for surgery to be completed, says Michelle S. Bradbury, M.D., of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and an assistant professor of radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. "Surgeons love optical," she said. "They don't need the radioactivity, but [our study] confirms what the optical signal is."

She added that the dots may serve as a carrier to deliver radioactivity or drugs to the actual tumors themselves. "This is step one to jump-start a process we think will do multiple things with one platform," she said.

This technology, researchers say, can be used to illuminate cancer cells during surgery, to show invasive or metastatic spread of cancers and also measure the response to various treatments.

This invention is a collaboration between Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), Cornell University, and Hybrid Silica Technologies, a Cornell business start-up.

A paper describing this new medical technology is in the July 2011 issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Review Date: 
June 20, 2011
Last Updated:
June 20, 2011