Combined with surgical resection, chemotherapy and radiation remain the first line of treatment for patients with cancer. Improvements have been made to chemotherapies, but many drugs are still not reaching the tumor site at effective doses, and are often associated with high systemic toxicities and poor pharmacokinetics. Moreover, for many malignancies, diagnosis is achievable only at late, metastatic stages of development, reducing the overall effectiveness of treatment. In recent years, the field of nanotechnology has emerged as an approach with the potential to produce novel diagnostics and therapeutics. At the nanoscale, materials are comparable in size to biological entities. They exhibit the ability to traverse the cellular environment in a size-dependent fashion, and can overcome a variety of biological obstacles, such as the blood-brain barrier and skin.1–4
In its application to cancer, the advantages of nanotechnology are numerous and include the selective targeting and delivery of anticancer agents to tumor tissues, and devices for early cancer detection and imaging systems. Significantly, these approaches can be used to enhance tumor regression by delivering multiple types of therapeutics, or can be used to monitor therapeutic efficacy by combining therapeutic and imaging agents in a single multifunctional platform (Figure 1).5,6 As part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, NIH has invested more than $400 million dollars in 2012, with budget proposals comparable for 2013 and 2014 to continue nanotechnology-based biomedical research.7 Additionally, several phase I and II clinical trials of anticancer nanotherapeutics are currently underway, suggesting that the field of cancer nanotechnology and its translation are moving forward.8–11 However, nanotechnologies in cancer have yet to obtain mainstream use in clinical care, indicating that much progress remains to be made in the area of translation. This article briefly reviews recent advances in the development of cancer nanotechnologies, and discusses the potential future directions and challenges of this new field.
The authors have disclosed that they have no financial interests, arrangements, affiliations, or commercial interests with the manufacturers of any products discussed in this article or their competitors. The content of this publication neither reflects the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does its mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the US government.
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