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The “Green” Approach to Liver Cancer


There is seemingly an endless amount of different types of cancer that can plague us. Lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and pancreatic – it seems that there isn’t a part of our bodies that is free from the potential disease. And while there is no cure for cancer as of yet, researchers are very optimistic about a new approach design to treat liver cancer; and the best part – it is “green.”

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 700,000 new cases of liver cancer diagnosed each year across the globe. As it stands, the only “cure” for the disease to have cancerous part of the liver surgically removed or completely replaced via transplant. However, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine led an international team that has shown that a new, minimally inverse approach can target and destroy precancerous tumors in the livers of mice and in vitro human cells.

“The limitations when treating most forms of cancer involve collateral damage to healthy cells near tumor sites,” said Kattesh Katti, Ph.D., Curators’ Professor of Radiology and Physics at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “For more than a decade we have studied the use of nanotechnology to test whether targeted treatments would reduce or eliminate damage to nearby healthy cells. Of particular interest has been the use of green nanotechnology approaches pioneered here at MU that use natural chemical compounds from plants.”

The study, which was conducted in both the United States and in Egypt involved the use of gold nanoparticles encapsulated by a protective stabilizer called gum Arabic. Then, these nanoparticles were introduced to the livers of mice intravenously and were heated via laser in a process known as photothermal therapy.

“Gum Arabic is a natural gum made of the hardened sap from acacia trees,” said Katti, who also serves as director of the MU Institute of Green Nanotechnology and is the Margaret Proctor Mulligan Distinguished Professor of Medical Research at the MU School of Medicine. “It is FDA-approved for human consumption and is primarily used in the food industry as an additive. It also promotes adhesion of gold nanoparticles engineered to attract to precancerous and malignant cells – which are much more susceptible to lower levels of heat than healthy cells. Once the nanoparticles travel and adhere to cancerous cells, they are heated to a temperature that destroys them but leaves healthy tissue unaffected.”

“The components for this new therapy are inexpensive, do not have any issues associated with a shelf-life and are easy to produce,” Katti said. “Most importantly, it does not involve the use of harsh chemotherapy drugs or radiation. It is a ‘green’ approach that also may lead to successful treatment of other forms of cancer.”

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