In 2011, Dr. Antonio Pizarro sat by his mother’s bedside watching her health deteriorate as a result of advanced stage endometrial cancer. In most cases, if endometrial cancer is caught early, it can be cured with surgery, but Dr. Pizarro’s mother’s cancer remained hidden until it was too late. By the time her body showed physical symptoms of the disease, the cancer had spread to her vital organs, eliminating surgery as an option since current procedures are too risky for a patient at that stage and, in some cases, won’t impact the outcome.
Chemotherapy was her only option. While the treatment helped her quality of life in significant ways, it also had an adverse effect. The treatment knocked out her bone marrow, greatly weakened her and she died less than two months after her diagnosis.
Dr. Pizarro, who practices gynecology and urogynecology in Shreveport, Louisiana, was beside himself with grief. He had dedicated his career to helping women with reproductive health issues, yet there was nothing he could do to help his own mother. (Dr. Pizarro is not an oncologist and did not treat his mother, but he did help facilitate her care.)
“It was the most confusing and miserable time of our lives,” Dr. Pizarro said. “I still can't believe it. She had so many years to live.”
But what if there had been an alternative to chemotherapy? What if there were a type of surgery that could specifically target cancer cells and eradicate them without doing any damage to the rest of the body? Nanotechnology could represent the alternative that doctors and patients have been seeking, and its emergence could change the scope of healthcare forever.
With nanotechnology, microscopic robotics can be inserted into the patient’s body through a catheter and be operated by a joystick, according to CNN. Because nanotechnology can treat specific areas in the body with precision, it “has long been touted as our best future weapon against cancer,” CNN reported.
Currently, a German company called MagForce is conducting trials to treat brain tumors with “tiny metallic spheres,” according to a New Scientist story by Stuart Farrimond, a former doctor who was diagnosed with a glioma brain tumor in 2008. During a procedure called NanoTherm, the spheres are injected into tumors and then are “agitated using a strong alternating magnetic field” to “cook and cauterize a tumor from the inside,” according to Farrimond.
In Boston, researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital completed “the first successful tests of nanoparticles” in mice that eventually “could be used to seek and repair damaged arteries, preventing heart attacks and strokes,” according to The Telegraph.
“Imagine going willingly to your computer, your retina is scanned, a salivary sample is placed in a chemo-voltaic receptor, you place your palm on a reader, the remote server uploads your biometrics and determines you have Type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Pizarro said. “Then, with your consent, your tagged nanorobot or robots are sent to you, you ingest or inject them and they reach your pancreas and reverse the disease.”
If nanotechnology continues to evolve, Dr. Pizarro believes it could lead to the most radical changes in healthcare this country has ever seen.
“In our lifetime, children will know a world where cancer is a memory, like polio is to us,” Dr. Pizarro suggested.
Top photo caption: Dr. Antonio Pizarro at his office in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Antonio Pizarro)