The first in a new generation of nanotechnology-based cancer treatments will likely begin clinical trials in 2007, and if the promise of animal trials carries through to human trials, these treatments will transform cancer therapy. By replacing surgery and conventional chemotherapy with noninvasive treatments targeted at cancerous tumors, this nanotech approach could reduce or eliminate side effects by avoiding damage to healthy tissue. It could also make it possible to destroy tumors that are inoperable or won't respond to current treatment.
One of these new approaches places gold-coated nanoparticles, called nanoshells, inside tumors and then heats them with infrared light until the cancer cells die. Because the nanoparticles also scatter light, they could be used to image tumors as well. Mauro Ferrari, a leader in the field of nanomedicine and professor of bioengineering at the University of Texas Health Science Center, says this is "very exciting" technology.
"With chemotherapy," Ferrari says, "we carpet bomb the patient, hoping to hit the lesions, the little foci of disease. To be able to shine the light only where you want this thing to heat up is a great advantage."