FIGHTING cancer cells is like fighting a war. General Ulysses Grant once sent word to former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln: “If you see the President, tell him from me that whatever happens, there will be no turning back.”

There is no turning back when cancer spreads from its primary location to several organs: usually the bones, lungs, liver, and then the brain—in a process called “metastasis.” Both metastatic cancer cells and cancer stem cells are in a suspended (detached) form, making them detectable first in the blood and the lymph (circulatory system). Thus, it can be seen earliest in a lymph node near the main tumor.

But metastatic cancer cells can evade detection by the immune system. The most important culprit, however, is increased creation of a new blood distribution network (angiogenesis). The blood vessels supplying the cancer cells grow faster than those in the normal cells, eventually connecting with highly vascularized organs, such as the bones, the brain, the liver, and the lungs. When the connection occurs, it is only a matter of time when these cells migrate and invade these organs.

Things take a turn for the worse when cancer stem cells are involved. These primordial cells can self-renew and self-generate and give rise to all cancer cell types. Thus, one cancer type gives rise to another type in other organs.

Distinct with cancer cells are their heightened metabolic speed, consuming more glucose than normal cells. That explains why one important physical sign of cancer is an unexplained and considerable weight loss. The person simply cannot keep up feeding such devouring cells.

Nanotechnology recently offered a new promise in defeating metastatic cancer cells. These are the so-called functional “gold nanoparticles,” the only nanoparticles so far approved by the US-Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials. While these particles lack pathology targeting mechanisms (being inorganic nanomaterials), they can be functionalized by modifying their surface with glucose to make them more attractive to glucose-voracious cancer cells.

Five researchers (Chenxia Hu, Martin Niestroj, Daniel Yuan, Steven Chang and Jie Chen) from four universities in China, Germany, the USA and Canada and the Canadian National Institute for Nanotechnology tested the gold nanoparticles against solid tumors and suspended cells. They found out that glucose-coated gold nanoparticles enhanced the killing of solid and suspended cancer cells 20 percent more than the classic X-Ray irradiation and uncoated gold nanoparticles. They reported their findings in the March 16 issue of the International Journal of Nanomedicine.

Someday human science and technology will defeat this menace called “cancer.” We need to pray for that… every day.