Cancer Therapy Without Side Effects Nearing Trials
A promising new cancer treatment that may one day replace radiation and chemotherapy is edging closer to human trials.
Kanzius RF therapy attaches microscopic nanoparticles to cancer cells and then "cooks" tumors inside the body with harmless radio waves.
Based on technology developed by Pennsylvania inventor John Kanzius, a retired radio and TV engineer, the treatment has proven 100 percent effective at killing cancer cells while leaving neighboring healthy cells unharmed. It is currently being tested at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“I don’t want to give people false hope,” said Dr. Steve Curley, the professor leading the tests, “but this has the potential to treat a wide variety of cancers.”
Modern cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy have proven remarkably effective at treating many cancers, especially in combination, but are plagued with toxic side effects. These treatments kill healthy cells as well as cancerous ones.
Kanzius RF therapy is noninvasive, and uses nontoxic radio waves combined with gold or carbon nanoparticles, which have a long history of medical use.
Since the mid-1980s, scientists have been trying to create new medical therapies to take advantage of their tiny size. Nanoparticles made of gold, carbon and other materials can move through the bloodstream and through cell walls, allowing for efficient drug delivery, or to act like a homing devices for research purposes.
However, questions about the safety of nanoparticles are largely unanswered. Nonetheless, the potential of nanoparticles to create novel treatments has become a central thrust of many fields of medicine, including oncology.
At M.D. Anderson, Curley's research team is working on coating microscopic gold nanoparticles with cancer-seeking molecules. The proteins act as a filter that ensures nanoparticles attach only to cancerous cells in the body.
“We’re looking into gold because it is FDA-approved and has a track record of being tolerated in humans,” said Dr. Christopher Gannon, assistant professor at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, who collaborated with M.D. Anderson.
When the gold nanoparticles are inside the malignancy, a blast from a radio-frequency generator causes them to heat and cook the cancer cells.
In trials with animal and human cells, the RF treatment destroyed 100 percent of malignant cells injected with nanoparticles, without harming surrounding healthy tissue.
A study in the November 2007 issue of the journal Cancer showed that tumor cells infused with nanoparticles and exposed to the electromagnetic field of the RF generator died within 48 hours of treatment, with no noted side effects.
A study in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology in January 2008 showed that destruction of human pancreatic cancer cells was 100 percent effective — again producing no noticeable side effects.
“We know it has the potential to work well,” said Gannon. "It’s just a matter of making the details work."
The problem is finding cancer-seeking molecules that are attracted to cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone.
Curley's team has identified a targeting molecule, c225 , which is FDA-approved. While c225 is present in many cancer cells, it also occurs in healthy cells.
“It will depend on the type of cancer and the targeting molecules attached to the nanoparticles,” Curley said.
The radio-frequency generator was invented by Kanzius, who underwent chemotherapy in 2003 and 2004 for leukemia. Kanzius declined to be interviewed for this story, citing an exclusive agreement with CBS News. 60 Minutes has scheduled a segment about Kanzius RF therapy for Sunday.
“His device helped inspire us to create the targeted nanoparticles to make it a fully functional clinical device,” said Gannon.
Kanzius is now working on a larger CT-scanner-sized device that will help scientists test larger subjects by this summer — and pave the way for human trials.
Curley, who described himself as the "ultimate skeptic," thinks the treatment is only a few years away.
"The best-case scenario is that we would be able to [start] clinical trials within three years,” he said.
VIDEO: Gold Nanoparticles Could Treat Prostate Cancer With Fewer Side Effects than Chemotherapy
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Currently, large doses of chemotherapy are required when treating certain forms of cancer, resulting in toxic side effects. The chemicals enter the body and work to destroy or shrink the tumor, but also harm vital organs and drastically affect bodily functions. Now, University of Missouri scientists have found a more efficient way of targeting prostate tumors by using gold nanoparticles and a compound found in tea leaves. This new treatment would require doses that are thousands of times smaller than chemotherapy and do not travel through the body inflicting damage to healthy areas. The study is being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
“In our study, we found that a special compound in tea was attracted to tumor cells in the prostate,” saidKattesh Katti, curators’ professor of radiology and physics in the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Science and senior research scientist at the MU Research Reactor. “When we combined the tea compound with radioactive gold nanoparticles, the tea compound helped ‘deliver’ the nanoparticles to the site of the tumors and the nanoparticles destroyed the tumor cells very efficiently.”
Currently, doctors treat prostate cancer by injecting hundreds of radioactive ‘seeds’ into the prostate. However, that treatment is not effective when treating an aggressive form of prostate cancer, said Cathy Cutler, research professor at the MU Research Reactor and co-author of the study. The size of the seeds and their inability to deliver effective doses hampers their ability to stop the aggressive form of prostate cancer.
In the study, the MU scientists created nanoparticles that are just the right size. Instead of hundreds of injections, the team only used one or two injections, and the nanoparticles were more likely to stay very close to the tumor sites.
Cutler and Katti have been working with colleagues Raghuraman Kannan, Anandhi Upendran, Charles Caldwell as well as others in the Department of Radiology and at the MU Research Reactor to develop and design the nanoparticles to the correct shape and size to treat prostate cancer. If the nanoparticles produced are too small, they can escape and spread; if they are made large enough, the nanoparticles will stay inside the tumor and treat it much more effectively than current methods.
“Current therapy for this disease is not effective in those patients who have aggressive prostate cancer tumors,” Cutler said. “Most of the time, prostate cancers are slow-growing; the disease remains localized and it is easily managed. Aggressive forms of the disease spread to other parts of the body, and it is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. men. However, we believe the gold nanoparticles could shrink the tumors, both those that are slow-growing and aggressive, or eliminate them completely.”
“This treatment is successful due to the inherent properties of radioactive gold nanoparticles,” Kannan said. “First, the gold nanoparticles should be made to the correct size, and second, they have very favorable radiochemical properties, including a very short half-life.”
With a half-life of only 2.7 days, the radioactivity from the gold nanoparticles is finished within three weeks.
“Because of their size and the compound found in tea, the nanoparticles remain at the tumor sites,” Upendran said. “This helps the nanoparticles maintain a high level of effectiveness, resulting in significant tumor volume reduction within 28 days of treatment.”
In the current study, the team tested the nanoparticles on mice. Prior to human trials, the scientists will study the treatment in dogs with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer in dogs is extremely close to the human form of the disease.
“When it comes to drug discovery, MU is fortunate because we have a combination of experts in cancer research, animal modeling, isotope production and nanomedicine, and state-of-the-art research infrastructure to take discoveries from ‘the bench to the bedside’ and never leave campus,” Katti said. “For example, we developed the nanoparticles here at our research reactor, which is one of the few places in the world that produces therapeutic, clinical grade radioisotopes. We then tested the radioactive gold nanoparticles in small animals in collaboration with other radiology researchers using testing facilities located at the Harry S. Truman Veterans Hospital. Our next steps include partnering with the College of Veterinary Medicine to treat larger animals with the hopes of having human clinical trials, held on our campus, soon.”
Katti, Cutler, Kannan, Upendran and Caldwell were joined in the study by Ravi Shukla, Nripen Chanda and Ajit Zambre, all from the Department of Radiology.