Another reader wanted to know about how nanotechnology would impact cancer. What is important about treating cancer? Finding where the cancer is in the body and then sending powerful medicines only to where the cancer is located.
The first challenge is finding the cancer. You want to find it when it is really small, before it gets too big. X-rays don’t do a good job because they only work with things like bones. Other ways of looking inside the body can work but you need to label the cancer cells so that you can see them. Quantum dots (shown right) are one way to label cells. They are really small, around five nanometers in size and because they are really tiny they can make it through the body to the cancer. If you want something to go through the blood stream to all parts of the body, they need to be really small.
The tiny capillaries that delivery food and oxygen throughout your body become really narrow, only a few thousand nanometers in diameter. Once the quantum dots reach the cancer a special kind of light is used, infrared light, that can penetrate deep into the body. The quantum dots glow and you can see them with a special camera.
Once you figure out where the cancer is, nanotechnology can also be used to treat it. nanotechnology can make tiny particles, only a few nanometers in size that can reach the cancer. Scientists have shown that things like carbon nanotubes and small particles of gold can be delivered to the cancer. Once they are there, you can again use special kinds of light to heat up the nanotubes or the particles of gold. Turns out that cancer cells explode when you heat them up and if you can heat only the cancer cells up and not the healthy tissue around it, you can treat cancer. Most of this stuff is still experimental but progress is being made.
For more information listen to Earth and Sky.
Image Source: Evident Technologies