Visit
for coverage from TIME, Health, Fortune and more
GO »
Tampa Florida To Host Republican National Convention
It involves using tiny manmade particles to battle cancer. Photograph by Joe Raedle—via Getty Images

This New Nanotechnology Could Become the Next Major Cancer Breakthrough

Oct 19, 2016

A breakthrough technology that harnesses manmade nanoparticles could one day become an important new weapon in the fight against cancer.

The technique, which appeared to successfully stop the spread of breast cancer in mice, was unveiled by scientists from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Stony Brook University, and a host of other research institutions in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

Subscribe to Brainstorm Health Daily, our upcoming newsletter about health innovations

Next-generation cancer fighting therapies on the market today use the body's immune system to combat tumors, as does experimental technology like CRISPR gene-editing. But the new nanotech has a different target: The cells that actually help cancer metastasize and spread throughout the body.

These immune cells, which are meant to ward off infections, create structures called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) that help them fight bacteria. But NETs can actually wind up helping spread the cancer by creating tissue openings that cancerous cells can exploit, study co-author Mikala Egeblad explained to Vice.

So the researchers created a new particle coated with a special enzyme that can kill these cells before the cancer can use them to metastasize. The results were modest, but promising: Three out of the nine mice given the nanoparticle showed no evidence of breast cancer progression, while all mice in the control group continued to worsen.

Still, there are important questions about how effective such a technique might be in humans. NETs are meant to combat bacteria, after all, and destroying them might make cancer patients whose immune systems are already compromised even more vulnerable to infection.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. FORTUNE may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions