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Detect And Explode: Belarusian Is Heading Research In U.S. Company To Create Revolutionary Cure For Cancer

Researchers at Masimo Corporation in the USA are solving an ‘unsolvable’ problem. Researchers are investigating ways to beat drugs- and raditation-resistant cancer by using laser technology that operates at cellular level.

Belarusian Dmitri Lapotko heads the research team.

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Dmitri Lapotko. Photo: Jeff Fitlow

The scientist shared about the prospects of the new treatment and his views about the difference in scientific research in Belarus and the U.S.

On-demand explosion at nanoscale

The technology Lapotko and his team are working on is aimed at combating cancer cells that remained after surgical removal of a cancerous tumor, and are resistant to drugs and radiotherapy.

“Residual cancer cells are the main killers”, Dmitry says. “Patients mainly die of recurrent and metastatic disease that comes from residual cancer cells. The effective doses of drugs and radiation in such cases are too dangerous and, therefore, inapplicable.”

Researchers may have found a way to detect and destroy such cancer cells from the inside, using safe nano particles and laser pulses, and without damaging the surrounding healthy cells and tissues.

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Left: cancer cell, surrounded by normal cells, before the laser pulse. Right: selective explosion of the cancer cell during the laser pulse; normal cells are not damaged.

“This is an on-demand explosion at nanoscale. A metal nano particle absorbs very short laser pulse. Its free electrons convert optical energy into heat. The rapid heating of the nano particle heats up the surrounding liquid.”

The vapor expands and collapses in nanoseconds. This produces a mechanical impact, a basis for nano surgery and nano therapy, and a pressure pulse, a basis for diagnostics. The researchers  named these explosions plasmonicnanobubbles, or PNB.

Laser energy is 100% safe for normal tissues

Scientist believes the nanoparticles can detect diseased cells by themselves.

“Metal nanoparticles have antibodies attached to recognize cancer cells. Cancer cells self-build clusters of nanoparticles by ‘eating’ them actively through the mechanism of receptor endocytosis.”

Anti-cancer cells ‘bombs’ are extremelly small: gold nano particles are 60 nm, clusters can reach 200-300 nm while the size of a cancer cell is 10,000-30,000 nm.

A human eye cannot see anything smaller than  400,000 nm.

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The clusters of gold nanoparticles on the surface of cancer cells. Photo:. D. S. Wagneretal, Biomaterials, 31 (2010)

Nanoexplosions affect only the diseased cells, while hot hurting the healthy ones.

“The laser energy is so low that it is absolutely safe for normal tissues and cells”, Dmitry says. “This distinguishes the mechanical treatment from chemo- or radiation- therapies and provides the basis for selective intracellular technology treatment and diagnostics.”

We can detect and kill malaria bacteria

In the future, plasmonicnanobubbles may become a tool for surgeons. Scientists propose to further treat the surgical bed after resecting the bulk tumor to reduce the chance of recurrence or prevent it.

The technology was tested on animals with aggressive cancer type. In diagnostics, it simultaneously and non-invasively detects single residual cancer cells in a surgical bed during tumor removal.

In treatment, the technology improved the survival time 5.5-fold compared to chemoradiation. Scientists published the results on the high-impact journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The technology can be effective in the treatment of other types of cancer and other diseases.

“The method can be used to any aggressive and optically accessible cancers, through the skin or intraoperatively”, says Dmitri. “We also can detect and kill bacteria and parasites, for example, malaria.”

In the U.S., a scientist works much harder than in Belarus

Dmitri has studied nanomedicine for 25 years. He worked in the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, then at Rice University in the U.S. At present the Belarusian leads the laser technology at the Masimo Corporation.

The company is the leader in non-invasive photonics medical device industry. It is focused on solving the unsolvable problems in healthcare. Masimo jointed a Cancer Moonshot National Initiative aimed to defeat cancer in the next 10-15 years.

The scientist says he was first offered a job in the USA in 1990. However, he moved from Belarus to the USA only in 2009 to work at Rice University, Houston, TX, the “motherland” of nanoscience.

“In the U.S., a scientist has to work much harder, compared to Belarus, in order to get both funding and recognition”, Dmitri notes. “The competition is very high. Just imagine, the best students from all over the world come to the U.S. and try to stay here to do research.”

While research budgets in the U.S. exceed Belarusian, doing science there is clearly less expensive.

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The Masimo cancer advising group during the Cancer Moonshot meeting with the Vice President Joe Biden (center)

Dmitri calls it a paradox.

“The cost per ‘unit of research product’ is several-fold higher in Belarus than that in America. I mean the cost of an effort to produce a research product such as a high-impact publication or a prototype of the product or technology. Science in modern Belarus is way more expensive than in the USA if you look into its real output.”

Clinical tests may take place in Belarus

Dmitri keep contact with colleagues at home country.

“Two years ago we organized a training of Belarusian cancer surgeons and medical oncologists at the best and leading cancer center in the world, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas in Houston, Texas. The American side was ready to fully pay for the in-depth professional training for up to 20-30 oncologists from Belarus providing they support their own travel and living.”

“This project received support among Belarusian oncologists, who need minimal administrative and financial support of their country.”

Before mass production, any new drug undergoes clinical trials. Dmitri hopes that clinical trials of plasmonicnanobubbles will begin in the near future and may be held in Belarus. Tests will be paid by the American side and will last for several years.

“Our colleagues from Belarus are professional and dedicated, they share our values and can organize clinical tests quickly. In the past many Belarusian professionals contributed a lot during 1980s and 1990s to my professional development.”

You may call trials of our method in Belarus my personal tribute to them (and to many others from this country), that also played a role.”


The article was published in Russian by 42.TUT.BY and translated for BelarusFeed.