Everyone can't stop talking about how nanotechnology is the future of healthcare, but so far we've not seen many useful applications. Finally, here's one: these nano-scale gold stars can kill cancer cells dead without ever entering them.
How the hell? Well, these little bad boys have between five and 10 points, and come coated in drug molecules which are attracted to a protein that all cancer cells produce in unusual quantities. That means that the points attach to the wall of cancerous cells. When blasted with light, those tiny points of contact offer up a massive concentration of the drug which pours into the cell and kills it, explain the researchers in ACS Nano. As Teri W Odom, one of the scientists, explains to PhysOrg:
"Our drug-loaded gold nanostars are tiny hitchhikers. They are attracted to a protein on the cancer cell's surface that conveniently shuttles the nanostars to the cell's nucleus. Then, on the nucleus' doorstep, the nanostars release the drug, which continues into the nucleus to do its work."
Because the star never has to pass through the surface of a cell, it means that their size is unimportant — making their manufacture simpler and keeping costs down. The only snag is that, because they need to be triggered by light, the researchers envision them only being used in tumors close to the surface of the human body. Still, it's proof that nanotech can help save lives. [ACS Nano via PhysOrg]
Image: Jason Hafner/Rice University