Researchers develop technology to monitor cancer treatment

30 March 2016

A team of Indian scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School have developed a nano-technology which would help monitor the effectiveness of cancer therapy within hours of treatment.

Their development has been hailed as an an important breakthrough.

"We have developed a nano-technology, which first delivers an anti-cancer drug specifically to the tumour, and if the tumour starts dying or regressing, it then starts lighting up the tumour in real time," said Shiladitya Sen Gupta, a principal investigator at MIT Brigham and Women's Hospital, PTI reported.

"This way you can monitor whether a chemotherapy is working or not in real time, and switch the patients to the right drug early on. One doesn't need to wait for months while taking a toxic chemotherapy only to realise later and after side effects that the drug hasn't worked," Gupta, a co-corresponding author of the breakthrough research published online this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, told PTI.

According to Ashish Kulkarni, the first author of the paper, using this approach, the cells lighted up the moment a cancer drug started working. "We can determine if a cancer therapy is effective within hours of treatment. Our long-term goal is to find a way to monitor outcomes very early so that we don't give a chemotherapy drug to patients who are not responding to it," he said.

Using a nanoparticle to deliver a drug which then glows green when cancer cells begin dying, Indian origin researchers had found a way to determine the effectiveness of cancer treatment much sooner than currently available clinical methods.

The ability to detect whether a cancer therapy was working, early on could influence the course of treatment and improve outcomes and quality of life.

However, conventional detection methods - such as PET scans, CT and MRI -usually cannot detect whether a tumour is shrinking until a patient has received  multiple cycles of therapy.

With the new approach the effectiveness of chemotherapy could be assessed in as few as eight hours after treatment and could also be used for monitoring the effectiveness of immunotherapy, the study said.

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