Investigators: Andrea Armani, Ph.D.; Charles Gomer, Ph.D.; David Agus, M.D.; Qifa Zhou, Ph.D.
Innovation: combining nanotechnology with ultrasound waves
Clinical significance: increasing the penetration depth of nanoparticle- enhanced therapy to reach previously inaccessible tumors
Although a promising area of cancer research, photothermal therapy is limited by how far lasers can penetrate into tissue. High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) waves can penetrate deeply, but, used on their own, have failed to completely remove cancerous cells without secondary e ects. By combining HIFU with metal nanoparticles, cell death has been demonstrated, but the precise mechanism was unclear.
Using theoretical modeling, the USC team discovered a motion mismatch between the ultrasound waves and the nanometal that seemed to create secondary e ects — heat generation and breakdown of the cellular cytoskeleton. Either e ect could result in cell death. The group is now on the brink of con rming whether it is the thermal or mechanical mechanism — or a combination of both — that is triggering destruction of the cancer cells.
While the USC researchers initially focused on pancreatic cancer because of how di cult it is to treat with current therapies, their potential breakthrough could be employed against a wide variety of cancers, or even used to change the microenvironment of the cancer and retard its growth. This research could lead to treatments to stop the spread of a broad range of cancers.