A light at the end of the tunnel for cancer suffers

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Nanotechnology has been hailed as the miracle treatment cancer sufferers have been waiting for. Research has shown that tiny carbon tubes only half the width of a DNA molecule can latch on to cancer cells, allowing them to be targeted for laser incineration without them damaging the nearby healthy cells.

The research carried out by university researchers Alex Biris of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Vladimir Zharov of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences show how the science of nanotechnology may in the future be used in place of chemotherapy which is known to destroy cancer cells and healthy cells alike.

The scientists injected cervical cancer cells into rats near their ear allowing the cells to reach the animals’ lymph nodes. Once cancer cells from tumours reach the lymph nodes the disease can spread to other organs of the body. The researchers then injected the carbon tubes into the rats which latched on to the cells and using a small device similar to an MRI machine the scientists could watch the tubes and attached cancer cells travel through the body.

Alex Biris stated “Now we have the ability by shining lasers, just lasers, to actually detect how these cancer cells move through the circulating system as well as the lymph nodes and tissues. This is important because beside the ability to detect the cancer cells we will also be able to kill them.”

To destroy the cells the nano tubes are heated up to around 90°C using an infra red laser beam, they were then inserted into the cells which were quickly destroyed by the heat generated by the laser beam. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells are covered in receptors for a vitamin known as folate. To ensure that only cancer cells are destroyed scientists make sure that the carbon tubes are coated in folate allowing the tubes to pass easily into the targeted cells but unable to bind with the healthy cells.

Nanotechnology has a lot to offer biomedical science, however the development of this treatment is still in it’s very early stages. Last year they found mice which were injected with the same carbon nano tubes responded as if they had been exposed to asbestos suffering inflammation and lesions.

Researchers have stated that additional studies are required to understand the potentially toxic affects of the tubes in humans and believe that further research into nanotechnology is fundamental to see if this treatment really can be used in the fight against cancer.

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