What if Amazon drones could deliver individual THC molecules directly into your lungs?
It may seem like a stoner fantasy, but a team of researchers in Boston, MA, has suggested that something akin to the retail giant’s aerial package delivery system could improve lung cancer treatment rates, if shrunken down to the nanoscale.
You’ve probably heard of nanotechnology before—the science of creating machines and systems that operate and act on the molecular, and even the atomic level. For perspective, there are one billion nanometers in one meter, and typical nanoparticle machines are less than 100 nanometers in size. One molecule of water (just two atoms of hydrogen and a single atom of oxygen) is roughly a quarter of one nanometer in size.
Some nanotechnologies occur naturally, such as the kevlar-style cross-linked molecules that give silk its strength, while others are created synthetically, such as the coating on airplanes to reduce drag. Earlier this year, results from nanotech tests conducted at Durham University showed high success rates in using nanoparticle machines to attack prostate cancer cells, with the cancer cells being killed within one to three minutes of being punctured by the nano-machines.
Now the team in Boston, led by Wilfred Ngwa, PhD, has published a report proposing that similar nanoparticle drones could be used to target lung cancer cells. These new nanoparticle drones would carry with them payloads of cannabinoids and radiosensitizers (drugs that weaken cancer cells’ resistance to radiation therapies), to be delivered directly to the targeted cells.
Dr. Ngwa is a medical physicist and assistant professor with the departments of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, respectively. His team’s report suggests that gold nanoparticles provide an excellent template for the newly proposed delivery nano-drones.
“They are biocompatible radiosensitizers,” states the report, “proffering relatively no toxicity. They can readily interact with photons by the photoelectric effect, to emit missile-like photoelectrons or Auger electrons in the micrometer range, to substantially boost [radiotherapy] damage to cancer cells.”
The photoelectric effect happens when photons (the basic particles that compose light) interact with nanomaterials. Photoelectrons are emitted, inviting electrons from higher energy levels to take their place. Each resulting release of energy has a chance of knocking out Auger electrons, which can lead to highly localized damage to tumor cells with minimal effect to the cells not targeted.
This allows the cancer to be treated with much lower doses of radiation therapy, effecting the same level of reduction in cancer cells with a fraction of the collateral tissue toxicity and related side-effects.
Similarly, the nano-drones could be equipped with payloads of cannabinoids to deliver their therapeutic effects without the psychoactive side-effects. The report cites palliative effects in cancer patients such as preventing nausea, vomiting, and pain relief, and adds that studies indicate cannabinoids can inhibit cancer cell growth both in vitro and in vivo.
While studies in the optimization of nanoparticle drones are ongoing, the report calls for more research and interdisciplinary collaborations in nanomedicine and nanoparticle drone delivery of radiosensitizers and cannabinoids in the context of “highly efficacious targeting of lung tumors,” while minimizing collateral damage and side-effects.
Featured image by Eduardo Famendes.