This year marks the 80th Anniversary of the National Cancer Institute, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support research on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Since the 1940s, cancer researchers have produced nothing short of astonishing science.
The development of antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) ranks among one of the most important advancements in cancer treatments in recent history. The ability to precisely target abnormal cells throughout the body and deliver highly toxic drugs to the center of tumors significantly improves upon the negative side effects of traditional chemotherapies that employ a total war approach to defeating cancer.
Anticancer drug development has not come without challenges for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture ADCs. The potency and effectiveness of ADCs are dependent upon engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) — the cytotoxic payload that destroys cancer cells — but little is known about the environmental and human health hazards posed by ENPs. Yet, the promise ENPs hold for patients is why we continue to wield them in the quest for a cure even without a full understanding of their key physical characteristics, chemical properties, and associated hazards.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been a primary champion of safe nanotechnology. Their research suggests that nanoparticle exposure can happen through skin contact or ingestion, but the risk is greatest when the material is airborn and potentially inhaled. As a result, NIOSH recommends that laboratories use high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters along with a well-designed exhaust ventilation system to reduce the risk of exposure.