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Surprising Science

Nanotechnology Fights Cancer

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say that by allowing nanoparticles to communicate with each other, the delivery of anti-cancer drugs can improve forty fold. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Dr. Bhatia and Dr. von Maltzahn of M.I.T. were inspired by the natural process of corporeal cell communication, specifically the way that injured tissue calls for help to stem bleeding, to develop a system where nanoparticles carry cancer treatment drugs directly to malignant cells. “They wondered if they might be able to piggyback on this system to deliver drugs to tumours—and they found that they could. … To do so, they realised that they would need two types of nanoparticles.” Signalling nanoparticles and receiving nanoparticles simulated the body’s own communication network.

What’s the Big Idea?

In recent years, the use of drug-carrying particles a few nanometres across has improved cancer treatment. “Such particles can be tailored to release their payloads only when the surrounding environment indicates that they are near a tumour, thus reducing collateral damage.” The result of Dr Bhatia and Dr von Maltzahn’s work is “a delivery system 40-times more effective than using nanoparticles by themselves. Moreover, in mice, at least, it shrinks cancers more effectively than other nanoparticle-based treatments. Work on men (and women) should follow soon.”


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