New nano treatment gives cancer patients fresh hope

The Sino-French NanoGun treatment, trialled in Shanghai for the first time yesterday, offers new hope for patients too ill for chemotherapy.

The world’s first surgery using NanoGun technology — jointly developed by Chinese and French scientists — was performed on a lung cancer patient in Shanghai yesterday.

The new minimally invasive treatment, which can be used on patients deemed no longer healthy enough for chemotherapy, injects the radioactive element rhenium-188 covered with nano-particles, including nitroimidazole — an organic matter.

While engulfing the nitroimidazole, the cancer cells also take in the rhenium, which eventually kills the tumor.

The patient, 71, was in the terminal stage of lung cancer and was too ill for further chemotherapy.

“It usually takes three days for the rhenium to kill the cancer cells,” said Gao Yong, the doctor in charge of the operation at Shanghai East Hospital. “There won’t be any side effects (from the rhenium) as the element will lose its radioactivity after three days.”

NanoGun is a Shanghai-based technology developed from scratch. It won China’s top innovation award in 2016.

Yang Guanghua, one of the scientists who helped develop the technology, said that although rhenium had long been ideal to treat cancer, there had been no ideal medium for delivery. It often diffused throughout the body and was hard to be absorbed by the irregular shaped cancer cells.

It took Yang and his colleges almost 10 years to find the right coating material, nitroimidazole, which matches perfectly with rhenium to make sure it directly reaches the nidus, or “nest”, of the cancer.

“Diffusion of the element (rhenium) hindered the effectiveness of the treatment in the past,” said Dr. Sadeg Nouredine, one of the French scientists working with Yang.

The surgery, approved by the hospital’s ethics committee as part of the treatment’s clinical trial, was free.

“We are working on the next stage of the technology in the lab,” said Yang. “So that it can hit multiple niduses simultaneously.”

If the trial succeeds the treatment will be available by 2020, by which time Shanghai will have built a pharmaceutical factory and hospital in Songjiang District to provide rhenium.

Yuan Jing / Ti Gong

French scientists Hafid Belhadj-Tahar (left) and Sadeg Nouredine preparing for surgery at the East Hospital in Pudong on Thursday.

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