Thursday, February 9, 2012

Treating breast cancer with nanotubes

A new type of drug seems to work well in treating breast cancer, scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have noted. They created small carbon tubes, known as nanotubes and injected them in mice. They found that the microscopic tubes were able to kill cancer cells effectively. They were already found to be effective in kidney cancer, and it appears nanotubes are also useful for other types of cancer, which makes the treatment very promising.

Heating carbon
Nanotubes are nothing more than very, very small carbon tubes that are injected into a tumour. By themselves they do not really do much. Their anti-cancer potential arises when a laser is pointing at them. Due to the energy of the laser, the nanotubes heat up. Eventually, they become hot enough to scorch the cancer tissue in which they were injected.

The scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center used mice with tumours in their experiments. After injection of nanotubes and the associated laser heating, they found that the treatment was able to stop tumour growth. These mice were growing tumours consisting of breast cancer cells, modelled after the human disease. However, we still need actual patient data, of course.

It is not the first time small synthetic things are used to treat cancer. A previous study revealed certain nanoparticles can be used to treat brain cancer. On the diagnostic front, specialized nanomachinery is able to listen to the sounds cancer cells make, which enables us to measure things we previously couldn't. This should in turn benefit treatment.

Breast is the second tissue type in cancer that has shown to be susceptible to nanotube treatment. Because the mechanism of heating up is quite non-specific, it is likely that nanotubes will also work in several other types of cancer, though we will need studies to prove that. All in all it looks like a promising new strategy to combat tumours. Scientists think they need about 10 years more to perform all the research they want to do. 

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