We are, quite literally, on a mission to cure liver cancer by harnessing the power of the immune system.

Treating disease with tiny particles

Dr. Ian McGilvray, a Liver Surgeon and Senior Scientist at UHN, has discovered new insights into the clinical use of nanotechnology to treat disease.

Nanotechnology involves the study of tiny particles (nanoparticles) that may be used to develop more effective drug therapies with fewer side effects.

This research shows how nanoparticles and immune cells interact and provides a roadmap to modifying factors in the liver that often block nanomedicines from accessing diseased tissue.

“If you want to unlock the promise of nanoparticles,” says Dr. McGilvray, “you have to understand and solve the problem of the liver.”

The liver is the largest solid organ in the human body and contains high numbers of immune cells, which readily absorb nanoparticles. The researchers found that by modifying blood flow rate they could decrease nanoparticle absorption by the liver by as much as 50 per cent, allowing greater access for nanomedicines to reach their intended targets.

Liver cancer is one the fastest-growing cancers in Canada. An estimated one in four Canadians may be affected by liver disease meaning that without early detection or effective treatments, the number of avoidable deaths due to liver cancer is destined to rise exponentially.

“This research will bring us one step closer to conquering this deadly disease,” says Dr. McGilvray. “We are, quite literally, on a mission to cure liver cancer by harnessing the power of the immune system.”