A team of Indian scientists from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School has made an important breakthrough by developing a nano-technology which will help monitor the effectiveness of cancer therapy within hours of treatment.
“We have developed a nano-technology, which first delivers an anticancer 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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).
“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.
The first author of the paper is Ashish Kulkarni, who comes from a small village in Maharashtra. A junior faculty at Harvard, Kulkarni trained as a Chemical Engineer at ICT Mumbai, then did a PhD in chemistry at the University of Cincinnati.
Kulkarni said by using this approach, the cells light up the moment a cancer drug starts 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.
“We’ve demonstrated that this technique can help us directly visualise and measure the responsiveness of tumours to both types of drugs,” Kulkarni said.
Other members of the research team are Poornima Rao, Siva Natarajana, Aaron Goldman, Venkata S Sabbisetti, Yashika Khater, Navya Korimerla, Vineethkrishna Chandrasekara and Raghunath A Mashelkar.
Except Goldman, all are Indian researchers.
“Current techniques, which rely on measurements of the size or metabolic state of the tumour, are sometimes unable to detect the effectiveness of an immunotherapeutic agent as the volume of the tumour may actually increase as immune cells begin to flood in to attack the tumour,” Kulkarni said.
He said reporter nanoparticles, however, can give “us an accurate read out of whether or not cancer cells are dying”.
The technology developed by the group can be used for monitoring the effectiveness of immunotherapy, a report said.
Using a nanoparticle that delivers a drug and then fluoresces green when cancer cells begin dying, they were able to visualise whether a tumour is resistant or susceptible to a particular treatment much sooner than currently available clinical methods, said a statement from BWH.