A nanoparticle that targets melanoma and highlights cancerous tissue is entering an early-stage clinical trial. Researchers testing the nanotherapeutic agent, which has been under development for over a decade, hope it provides a way to target melanoma and map its spread throughout the body. Researchers have tested the drug in animals and found no toxicity. Safety tests in five melanoma patients should be completed by the end of the year.
Drugs that help doctors image, characterize, and treat diseases could result in treatments that are better targeted to an individual patient’s disease. “With cancer genome programs, we’re learning more and more about differences between individuals’ diseases,” says Jerry Lee, director of the Office of Physical Sciences-Oncology at the National Cancer Institute. That information will tell doctors what drugs will work best for a patient, and how they might best be delivered. “Multifunctional, tailored nanoplatforms will bridge with that biological information,” enabling doctors to act on it to improve patient care, Lee says.
The new melanoma-targeting nanoparticles were developed by Ulrich Wiesner, professor of materials science at Cornell. He’s worked with a group led by Michelle Bradbury, a radiologist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, to test the nanoparticles in animals. Bradbury is also leading the clinical trial.
The researchers hope to use the nanoparticles to address two major clinical needs. First, they want to use it to develop a therapy that seeks out melanoma tumors. “There’s never been a targeted therapy for melanoma,” says Bradbury. Melanoma starts on the skin, but when it spreads to other parts of the body, it is invisible and deadly. A targeted therapy would seek melanoma out no matter where it has spread.
“Another gap in the field is the lack of an optical imaging agent to visualize lymph nodes,” says Bradbury. Today, surgeons use radioactive labels and a handheld gamma detector to find cancer-carrying lymph nodes in the head and neck during surgery. But this is a tricky process. Bradbury hopes the nano-imaging agent can be used to light up cancer-carrying lymph nodes during surgery, providing a map that helps doctors remove the cancer while avoiding unnecessary cutting that can lead to painful side effects.