August 2, 2005


Nanotechnology has been harnessed to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. The technique works by inserting microscopic synthetic rods called carbon nanotubules into cancer cells.

When the rods are exposed to near-infra red light from a laser they heat up, killing the cell, while cells without rods are left unscathed.

Details of the Stanford University work are published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This report (reg. req’d) has more background, but notes that the results are rather preliminary:

One of Dai’s big challenges was to find a way to deliver the nanotubes to sick cells.

He knew that cancer cells have specific receptors. So his team coated the nanotubes with a certain kind of molecule, called folate, which latches onto folate receptors.

This strategy succeeded in delivering the folate-coated nanotubes inside cancer cells, bypassing the normal cells — like Trojan horses crossing the enemy line.

The approach is now being moved into animal trials. Dai and Dean Felsher, a researcher in the Stanford School of Medicine, have begun a collaboration using mice with lymphoma. The researchers hope to learn if shining a light on the animal’s skin will destroy lymphatic tumors, while leaving normal cells intact.

Let’s hope it works in animal trials. But there’s also this news:

A related approach is being attempted at Rice University in Houston. Jennifer West and her colleagues infused “nanoshells” into the bloodstreams of mice with cancer. The shells concentrated around the animals’ tumors. Then the team exposed the animals to a special light, causing the shells to heat up and cook the tumors but leave surrounding tissues unharmed. The immune system then eliminates the shells.

Months later, the animals were still cancer-free.

(Via Nanodot).

UPDATE: This is cool, too: targeted drug delivery to different parts of the body using nanotubes.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Oh, jeez, I’ve failed miserably in my duty to shill for the Foresight Institute. (Board members have that sort of a duty, right?) Anyway, here’s some news:

Foresight Nanotech Institute, the original organization in the nanotechnology field, has appointed commercial space flight pioneer, Dr. Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation and CEO of Zero Gravity Corporation; venture capitalist and media expert, Ed Niehaus, Partner at Cypress Ventures; and nanotechnology leader and executive, James Von Ehr II, Founder and CEO of Zyvex Corporation, to its Board of Directors. All three will begin their term immediately.

I’ve known all three of them for years (Peter Diamandis for over ten years) and I think they’re a terrific addition to the Foresight Board, which is expanding along with Foresight itself.

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