Radiotherapy, a common cancer treatment, involves the use of directed, high-energy radiation. So to heal one form of skin cancer, scientists are now developing a type of radiotherapeutic bandage. Though tested only on animals so far, the bandage delivers radiotherapy directly to a squamous cell carcinoma (tumor), and might someday replace existing treatments, according to University of North Texas researchers who presented their work at the 2015 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Meeting.

Caused by too much sun exposure, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is one form of non-melanoma skin cancer. It's a common malignancy in the United States, and an estimated 700,000 cases of SCC are diagnosed each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Meanwhile, somewhere between 3,900 and 8,800 people died from the disease in 2012. The foundation says incidence has increased by up to 200 percent in the past three decades.

SCC tends to occur close to the surface of the skin and then spreads. Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the tumor, which is accompanied by radiation therapy to eliminate any residual cancer cells. While radiation therapy is useful and effective, it requires cumbersome equipment, specialized instruments, and special facilities, the researchers said. As a possible less-invasive, more functional treatment, Dr. Anthony J. Di Pasqua, assistant professor at UNT College of Pharmacy, and his colleagues explored a radiotherapeutic bandage for SCC. Di Pasqua often focuses on alternatives to the current treatment models for cancer.

“My research interests include nanomaterials for use in chemo- and radiotherapeutics,” Di Pasqua’s website explains. “Work in my laboratory focuses on the development of novel delivery systems to enhance the efficacy of therapeutically active compounds, while minimizing their side effects in patients.”

To create the radiotherapeutic bandage, Bhuvaneswari Koneru, a graduate student, and Yi Shi, a post-doctoral research associate, used nanoparticles and a technique called “electrospinning,” which uses an electrical charge to create thin fibers from a liquid. Prior to applying the bandages, they activated radioactive polymers, which were embedded within the fabric. Then, the research team placed the bandages on mice with SCC for one hour. Over a 15-day period, the team measured each animal's tumor size to see how effective the bandage was (compared to a no-treatment group of mice and a non-radioactive bandage-treatment group).

On the 15th day, three out of 10 mice in the radioactive bandage-treatment group had complete tumor elimination while the other seven in the same group had significantly smaller tumors (compared to the two control groups).

In a follow up analysis, Di Pasqua and colleagues will study this technology in larger animals to gauge whether it might work for humans. They also intend to explore different doses of radiation to see which works best.

Source: Di Pasqua A, Koneru B, Shi S, et al. At The 2015 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Meeting and Exposition. 2015.