Normally, cells are dormant and don’t do much on a large scale except for normal internal functions like keeping you alive! It’s not until the cell needs to divide, either due to repair or growth, that they become active and replicate in a controlled manner. Cancer is when cells divide and grow uncontrollably. This uncontrollable division usually stems from genetic mutations in which the cell doesn’t respond to the chemical signals that “turns” the cell on and off. Early detection of cancer usually results in beneficial results for life but when a cluster of cancerous cells move from being benign to malignant, chances are negatively affected. Benign is a cluster of cells that doesn’t invade the space surrounding it whereas malignant tumors is when the cells detach from the original cluster, invading surround tissue and relocating around the body. What if we were able to detect and neutralize cancer before it even started to damage the body?
Russian scientist, Dmitri Lapotko used to work for the Soviet Union in the 80’s as a laser weapons physicist but since then has dedicated his knowledge to the destruction of cancerous cells that are nanosized. Detection of cancer only occurs when the tumors are up to approximately 10 mm and, by then, the disease is already affecting the body. Detection of cancerous cells before this would also be difficult to remove with the high potential for damage to the surrounding tissues; which is truly terrifying if we’re talking about brain tissue. There is even further complications because of the rate at which cancer divides and therefore mutates. This results in planned chemotherapy and radiation therapies becoming less effective and close moderation of how the body is reacting to said therapies needs to be done. This is where Lapotko’s technique comes in; he aims to physically destroy the cancer using lasers which skips over all of the biology.
For the last couple of decades, scientists have investigated ways in which nanoparticles can be used to deliver therapies; not just to cancers but other diseases also. The idea is that nanoparticles containing chemotherapy drugs, coated with antibodies, seek out cancerous cells throughout the body and, once a cancerous cell is found, the cell engulfs it because of it’s ‘aggressively hungry’ nature. This ‘hunger’ allows for multiple nanoparticles to be consumed resulting in the drugs having an increased effectiveness. Lots of research is being done with the use of gold but there is still the issue associated with the cell evolving and no longer being affected by the drug as effectively. Lapotko takes this step even further introducing lasers into the mix!
Once a cancerous cell has consumed a nanoparticle of gold, a laser pulse is shot at the gold causing it to generate enough heat that a plasmonic nanobubble forms; a bubble of vapour like an acoustic pop that instantaneously expands and contracts that tears the cancer cell apart without damaging the surrounding tissue. It’s essentially the Death star but on a significantly smaller scale. This technique ensures the early detection of cancer, the complete destruction of cancer without the issues associated with physical removal and drug resistance. The technique has been tested in mice so far and has shown a significant increase in the survival rate from treatment. There is a downside to this procedure though.
Cancerous cells detected deeper within the body would be difficult to hit with lasers because they don’t penetrate through the body effectively at the controlled energy level and higher levels would be damaging. Taking this into consideration, it is most likely that this will not be the holy grail of cancer treatment but is an evolved form of chemotherapy used parallel to other forms of therapy to increase the chance of survival. Surgeons could physically remove tumors and use the laser on the surrounding tissue during surgery to eliminate cells missed. This along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy would definitely make cancer less threatening. Clinical trials are aimed to start in Europe in the next couple of years with the National Institute of Health providing support and resources. This is a very cool breakthrough that could slash the percentage of people that a negatively affected because of the prevalence of cancer.