A combination of extracorporeal shock waves and nanoparticles improves drug delivery and treatment of tumors that are difficult to treat using standard chemotherapy methods. The study was a pre-clinical trial conducted in mice.1,2

The researchers used nanobubbles, a type of nanoparticle with a gas-filled core that can be loaded with chemotherapy agents. Nanoparticles are transported through the bloodstream enabling them to deliver chemotherapy directly to the tumor. However, restricted blood flow in some cancers prevents nanoparticles from reaching the tumor.

In this study, published in Endocrine-Related Cancer, researchers from the University of Turin combined paired nanoparticle drug delivery with a technique using highly focused, precise sound waves called extracorporeal shock waves (ESW). The combination was tested on anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC), an aggressive, rare, and difficult-to-treat cancer with an average survival rate of 5 months after diagnosis.

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Previous studies found that delivery of doxorubicin, the only chemotherapy drug approved for the treatment of ATC, via nanoparticle was limited. In this study, researchers found that the combination of doxorubicin-loaded nanoparticles with ESW resulted in reduced tumor volume, lower tumor weight, higher doxorubicin content in the tumor, and more dying tumor cells. Tumor volume was measured over 21 days. Heart damage, a common side effect of doxorubicin treatment, also was significantly lower in the mice who underwent the combination treatment than in those mice treated with doxorubicin alone.

“This could be a feasible strategy for the treatment of this and other aggressive solid tumors in which standard chemotherapy remains the only option,” said senior researcher Dr Maria Catalano. “Given the promising results of this preclinical study and the lack of a standard therapy for ATC, the next step will be conducting clinical trials with the hope of improving the cancer treatment and patient quality of life.”


1. Marano F, Frairia R, Rinella L, et al. Combining doxorubicin-nanobubbles and shockwaves for anaplastic thyroid cancer treatment: preclinical study in a xenograft mouse model [published online May 9, 2017]. Endocr Relat Cancer. doi: 10.1530/ERC-17-0045

2. New nanotechnology application for difficult-to-treat cancers [news release]. Bristol, United Kingdom: Society for Endocrinology; May 9, 2017. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/sfe-nna050817.php. Accessed June 1, 2017.