Scientists Hope to Kill Cancer Cells With Nanotubes

Posted on August 6, 2005

The Mercury News reports on a promising area of nanotechnology that could help fight cancer. Stanford University scientists are researching the idea of using nanotechnology to kill cancer cells. The idea, which is still several years away from human testing, uses nanotubes which can be heated up with a ultra-thin laser to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

Dai and his team shine a very thin laser beam of near-infrared light on something called a carbon nanotube.

The electrons in the nanotube -- a hollow tube, resembling straw, made of interwoven carbon atoms about one-100,000th the diameter of a human hair -- become excited by the light and release energy in the form of heat.

The heat is so extreme that it is deadly to cells.

To test this approach as a therapy, Dai placed the carbon nanotubes inside a collection of cancer cells, then shone the three-centimeter laser beam on them. The cancer cells were destroyed.

``They were literally cooked to death,'' Dai said. ``The tube acts like a tiny heater.''

But cells without the carbon nanotubes showed no ill effects -- the light passes harmlessly through them.

Today's chemical and radiation cancer treatments damage or kill nearby cells so this method would be a way to micro-target the cancer and destroy just the cancer cells. The next move for the Stanford University scientists is to test the nanotube concept on mice with lymphoma.