New research uses nanoparticles to attack cancer

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Research in the field called "nanotechnology" is like exploring the best and most bizarre science fiction, and yet this science is very real.

Imagine a tiny thing that can enter the very innards of a cancer cell and burn it up from the inside out. KSL visited a lab at the University of Utah's Research Park, where graduate student Adam Gormley used a fiber-optic laser, visible only with an infrared viewer, to heat up extremely small nanorods inside a cell.

What is... nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is molecular manufacturing or, building things one atom at a time. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter and approximately ten atoms fit inside one nanometer. Manipulating molecules to form in particular shapes, allows for materials to be built with amazing properties.

Tiny objects that match a nanoscale are 4,000 times smaller than the width and the diameter of a human hair. For example, nanotechnologists can take a gold particle and build it into a nanorod with unique properties.

As Gormley describes, "These particles are 15 by 16 nanometers. To give you a frame of reference, kind of a classic example, it's the size of a marble relative to the size of the Earth."

Gormley and undergraduate Ryan Robinson turn little nanorods into sort of attackers on a white horse. They enter a cancer cell and wait for a command. Identifying the nanoparticles with an electron microscope, the laser is readied. "We use a laser light," Gormely says, "to generate heat and induce what is called tumor hyperthermia, and this essentially burns the tumor away from the inside out."

Since gold is a great conductor, the nanorods heat rapidly. Cells incinerate or sort of explode.

The University of Utah's Nano Institute is collaborating with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, exploring whether this technique and others might become worthy of human trials.

Dr. Hamid Ghanderhari with the Institute and a professor with the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative says, "In addition to collaboration with the Huntsman group, with the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, there are also companies -- for example companies we are developing as well as others -- that are actually going to take this technology from bench to bedside."

It's a tiny world with big weapons. How far all this will go is about as limitless as your imagination.

The blossoming field of nanotechnology already involves a marriage of researchers in engineering, biology, chemistry and medicine. Various forms of the technology are already in clinical trials at some medical centers around the country.


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Ed Yeates


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