Breakthroughs in cancer made possible by nanotechnology

The potential of nanotechnology for cancer research has been enormous for the medical field, leading to significant improvements in diagnosis and therapy.

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Nanoparticles and nanomaterials with remarkable physicochemical properties have been used for applications such as early detection of cancer, tumor imaging and drug delivery. This article will provide an overview of how nanotechnology has contributed to breakthroughs in cancer research.


In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported cancer as the leading cause of death, with devastating global statistics such as 10 million deaths.

Some of the risk factors for this disease include smoking, alcohol, low consumption of fruits and vegetables and low physical activity, as well as a high body mass index. Additionally, infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis can also be oncogenic drivers, which can account for 30% of cancer-related cases in low- and middle-income countries.

Due to the high mortality rate associated with most types of cancer, early diagnosis is a priority for researchers in order to manage and prevent disease progression and ensure effective treatment. Early detection of cancer has been described as significantly improving the 5-year survival rate of patients, leading to a better prognosis.

Incorporation of nanotechnology

Current cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, all of which can lead to damage to healthy tissue as well as ineffective eradication of cancerous tissue.

The emergence of nanotechnology has enabled the advancement of the medical field, as it can increase the targeting of therapies to cancerous areas; this would ensure the preservation of healthy tissue – a major concern for conventional cancer treatments. This can lead to targeted treatment, reduce the risk of comorbidities and increase patient survival rates.

Medication administration

Nanoparticles are smaller than normal drug molecules, existing in the nanoscale, ranging in size from 1 to 100 nm. Using these particles as nanocarriers to transport drugs may be revolutionary for drug delivery applications in cancer research, as drugs in this unique carrier also have the ability to cross the blood barrier. -encephalic, allowing the treatment of brain cancers, such as multiform glioblastoma.

Additionally, surface functionalization of these particles, which involves the use of ligands including but not limited to DNA, peptides, and antibodies, can further improve the precise targeting of nanoparticles. This can ensure that the particles are directed efficiently live to effectively deliver medication to the affected area.

The use of nanoparticles for chemotherapy treatment can greatly improve patient experience and improve both patient quality of life due to decreased toxicity and increased survival rate.


Nanoparticles can also aid in the early detection of cancer, with these functionalized particles being used as a biosensor to identify actionable mutations in a sample. This can be essential for early treatment and disease management to avoid poor prognoses.

Likewise, these nanoparticles can be functionalized with metals to be used to detect tumors during imaging; it can also help precisely target cancerous tissue to ensure comprehensive treatment.

Single cell analysis

The heterogeneity of cancer cells has been a major hurdle for researchers, with progress being aided by the development of single-cell analysis via nanoscale technology.

The use of minimally invasive cellular nanotools has been developed for medical progress to understand disease heterogeneity at a global level. This technology includes, but is not limited to, nanopipettes, hollow atomic force microscope tips, and carbon nanotubes.

These techniques can extract biological information including proteins in cells and even messenger RNA, which has led to insights into the underlying biology of a patient’s disease, including cancer.

Recent research on nanotechnology

A university in London, UK, known as University College London (UCL), along with the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, recently developed a novel approach to deliver drugs for oncogenic mutations in neuroblastoma using nanotechnology.

Neuroblastoma, which can be described as a cancer of immature nerve cells, is the most common type of solid tumor in children, with treatments ineffective in children over the age of one.

Researchers in this study developed nanoparticles that use the EPR effect of tumors that lead to vascular leakage, to locate cancerous areas and deliver small interfering RNA (siRNA) to silence the MYCN gene, which is overexpressed by this type of tumour.

Professor Stephen Hart, a researcher from the university, commented on the future of the study, stating that “the results show that this approach could be a potential new therapy for neuroblastoma. The next steps would be to develop methods of ‘scaling up clinical-grade production and showing that the treatment is safe.’

This research could be promising for the field since neuroblastomas are responsible for approximately 15% of cancer-associated mortality in children.

Translational significance

While nanotechnology has advanced medicine significantly, enabling the analysis of heterogeneous diseases as well as the early detection of cancer for effective treatment plans, this field is continuously growing, with ongoing research challenges to ensure safe use in humans.

The use of nanoparticles can be advantageous for medicine; however, the list of FDA-approved nanoparticle drugs is still limited, which can be overcome with additional research on human use compatibility.

The potential of this field for the future may be groundbreaking, with innovative research being conducted to advance the field of cancer research, medicine as a whole, and other industries such as technology.

Continue Reading: How nanotechnology became a staple of cancer research

References and further reading

Kemp, J. and Kwon, Y., 2021. Cancer Nanotechnology: Current Status and Prospects. Nano-convergence, 8(1). Available at: 10.1186/s40580-021-00282-7

National Cancer Institute. 2022. Therapy and treatment of cancer using nanotechnology. [online] Available at:

Salvador-Morales, C. and Grodzinski, P., 2022. Nanotechnology tools enabling biological discovery. ACS Nano, 16(4), pp.5062-5084. Available at:

Sengupta, S. and Sasisekharan, R., 2007. Harnessing nanotechnology to target cancer. British Journal of Cancer, 96(9), pp. 1315-1319. Available at:

Tagalakis, A., Jayarajan, V., Maeshima, R., Ho, K., Syed, F., Wu, L., Aldossary, A., Munye, M., Mistry, T., Ogunbiyi, O., Sala, A., Standing, J., Moghimi, S., Stoker, A., & Hart, S., 2021. Integrin-targeted short interfering RNA nanocomplexes for neuroblastoma tumor-specific delivery MYCN Silence with Enhanced Survival. Advanced functional materials, 31(37), p.2104843. Available at: 2022. Cancer. [online] Available at:

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