Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nanotechnology may offer alternative to radiation for cancer patients

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 | 5:35 PM ET

Nanotechnology, the science of the really small, is already applied in hundreds of consumer products to enhance colour and durability of paints or make socks less smelly, but it's real promise may lie in medicine.

Scientists can use nanoparticles created in a laboratory that are tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a strand of hair to deliver drugs deep into the body, penetrating membranes in ways no pill has been able to do.

A nanoparticle can be attached to antibodies or chemicals that recognize tumour cells and can target and kill cancer cells but spare surrounding tissue.

Jie Chen, a nanotechnology engineer at the University of Alberta, is using nanotechnology to develop new cancer treatments that could one day replace radiation and chemotherapy. He is doing experiments with injected nanoparticles that contain a bamboo compound that is sensitive to ultrasound.

"So when the ultrasound is used and treated or targetted towards these compounds, then you will activate and generate something which can destroy the cancer so it's much safer compared to conventional radiation."

Dr. Nils Petersen, director general of the National Institute for Nanotechnology in Edmonton said nanotech promises better, faster and cheaper ways of diagnosing and treating disease, developing drugs — even regrowing teeth.


The researchers in Edmonton are starting to organize a human trial of the ultrasound cancer treatment, saying they are eager to put nanotechnology to work in medicine.