Not yet in prime time, but hopefully soon to begin in human trials is a simple, but possibly very powerful use of nano-particles that could immediately reveal if our individual chemotherapy or immunotherapy is effective.

Not all therapies are effective for each of us and knowing quickly if a therapy is working for any individual is vital. Knowing the efficacy of a therapy, in real time, would allow us to more quickly move on to an alternative therapy, if needed and will allow us to stop an ineffective therapy quickly which in turn will save untold suffering from side effects and save money.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, have developed an approach which can alert them to the death of cancer cells the moment a therapy begins to work at the cellular level, not weeks or months after treatment results are reflected on a scan.

Their technique uses a nano-particle that delivers the cancer therapy and also glows green if cancer cells die. This process provides immediate feedback to see if a tumor cell is resistant or susceptible to a specific treatment agent.

Their findings were published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. According to the publication, “Using this approach, the cells light up the moment a cancer drug starts working. We can determine if a cancer therapy is effective within hours of treatment,” said Dr Shiladitya Sengupta, a principal investigator in Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Bioengineering.

Their process is simple and takes advantage of the fact that when cells die, an enzyme known as caspase is activated. The researchers developed a “reporter element” which glows green when in the presence of this enzyme.

The researchers used nano-particles loaded with a chemotherapy called paclitaxel, in a pre-clinical model of prostate cancer and an immunotherapy in a pre-clinical model of melanoma. In the tumors that were sensitive to paclitaxel, there was a 400% increase in fluorescence compared to tumors that were not sensitive to the drug.

The team also saw a significant increase in the fluorescent signal in tumors treated with the immunotherapy after five days. Normally, immunotherapies take much longer to become effective.

The researchers now plan to try and move this discovery to human trials. I would like nothing better than to glow green with envy, or should I say with am effective therapy.