Cancer treatment in the future could have dramatically reduced side effects if new nanotechnology research proves useful. Heat-sensitive nanoparticles might be able to deliver drugs to a targeted location in the body—to a tumor, say—and release them on cue, a sought-after goal of biomedical research.
One research team has developed nanoparticle cages that can be stuffed with tiny amounts of drugs that are only released on demand. These “nanocages” are cubes of gold, with sides about 50-billionths of a meter long and holes at each corner. They are easily made, using silver particles as a mold, and then coated with strands of a smart polymer. The polymer strands are normally extended and bushy and cover the holes in the cube. But when heated the strands collapse, leaving the holes open and allowing the drug inside to escape [The New York Times]. The researchers say they can engineer the nanocages to stick to tumors.
Doctors could release the packaged drugs whenever they want, just by zapping the cages inside the patient’s body with near-infrared light. Near-infrared wavelengths are not greatly absorbed by body tissues, so light from a near-infrared laser could penetrate a couple of inches inside the body, but they are absorbed by gold [The New York Times]. Researchers could design the cages to fall apart at just a few degrees above normal body temperature, so they only spill their contents where the heat is applied; they could also alter the drug’s rate of release by adjusting the laser’s intensity. The technology, described in the journal Nature Materials, could help cut down on the side effects of today’s treatments which are often caused by toxic drugs coursing through the body.
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