Yale scientists are working on a treatment for skin cancer that could potentially replace surgery by injecting nanoparticles that attach to tumor cells, killing them via a two-pronged attack.
“For a lot of patients, treating skin cancer is much more involved than it would be if there was a way to effectively treat them with a simple procedure like an injection,” said Dr. Michael Girardi, senior author of the study and vice-chair of dermatology at Yale Medical School. “That’s always been a holy grail in dermatology—to find a simpler way to treat skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.”
The treatment is done by injecting polymer-based nanoparticles that convey a chemotherapy agent.
The Yale news release explains that the nanoparticles are bioadhesive, which is central to the efficacy of the novel treatment. They would be able to kill a significant number of the cancerogenic cells by attaching to the tumors.
“When you inject our nanoparticles into a tumor, it turns out that they’re retained within that tumor very well,” said Mark Saltzman, co-author and Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and professor of physiology. “They accumulate and bind to the tumor matrix, so one single injection lasts for a very long time—the particles stay there and slowly release the compounds. You need that to get rid of the lesion.”
Another key aspect of the remedial process is the presence of an agent that animates the immune system, which Girardi calls “kill and thrill.”
“You don’t want to just kill the cells and leave them there, you want to stimulate the immune system to clean up the mess and also react against cells that might not have been killed directly. So it’s a two-pronged attack on the cancer,” Girardi said.
According to the researchers, if the treatment is fine-tuned, the treatment could potentially in many scenarios, render surgery unnecessary.
Some patients are not fit to engage in surgery in the first place, and other related complications could be avoided without surgery.
Furthermore, the injection-based treatment enables the possibility of targeting various tumors in a single session.
“In these studies, we did just a single injection, and that’s how we’d like it to work clinically,” said Saltzman. “You go to a dermatologist, they see a lesion and inject into it, and it’s gone and you don’t have to come back.”
What’s also remarkable is that the nanoparticle method permits strong chemotherapy agents to be used at the location of the tumor specifically, limiting the toxicity.