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November 02, 2007

Nano, Nano.

No, I'm not referring to the 80s sitcom Mork and Mindy, but to nanotechnology, the "engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale."

The Houston Chronicle reports that researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University have suceeded in using a combination of carbon nanotubes and radio waves to destroy liver cancer tumors in rabits - with no side effects.

In the experiment recounted in Cancer, the rabbits were injected with a solution of single-walled carbon nanotubes — hollow cylinders of pure carbon measuring about a billionth of a meter across — then exposed to two minutes of radio-frequency treatment. The result, researchers said, was the thermal destruction of 100 percent of the tumors.

The paper also described lab experiments in which two lines of liver cancer cells and one pancreatic cancer cell line were destroyed after being incubated with nanotubes and exposed to the radio-frequency field.

An official with the American Cancer Society called the study a fascinating concept but emphasized that researchers still have a long way to go before clinical usefulness.

"This is clearly a burgeoning area of research," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the society's deputy chief medical officer. "Researchers still must figure out how to get nanotubes to search out and lodge in cancer cells, but this study is an interesting proof of concept."

The trick is to find a way to specifically target cancer cells, researchers explained, perhaps through bonding the tubes to "antibodies, peptides or other agents that in turn target molecules on cancer cells."

The technology has a long ways to go before it becomes primetime, but this "proof of concept" experiment shows that it is technology with a lot of promise.

Posted by Paul Howard at November 2, 2007 01:09 PM

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