The formation of cancer is a relatively straightforward biological process. In our bodies, cells are constantly dieing and new cells regrown to replace those lost. Within the cell are instructions that tell the cell when it should die. This process is known as apoptosis. Cancer occurs when the cells mutate so that apoptosis does not occur and cells continue to grow in an unregulated fashion.
Cancer treatments work by removing the mutated cells. This can be done physically, such as with surgery where the cancerous tumour is cut from the body, by use of radiation to destroy the tumour or chemically, using specific chemotherapy drugs.
Nanotechnology and Cancer Treatment
A great deal of research is underway into using nanotechnology for the treatment of cancer. The cancer treatments can be divided into two main categories:
• Targeted drug delivery
• Physical destruction
This article deals with the physical destruction of cancer.
Unlike surgical removal of tumours, nanotechnology can be used to destroy cancer cells in situ and non-invasively. The key to this are nanoshells or coreshells.
Nanoshells are miniscule hollow spheres with a wall thickness of only a few nanometers. Nanoshells are commonly made from gold due to the biocompatibility and inert nature of pure gold. Gold is also an excellent absorber of light and the optical properties of gold nanoshells can be customised by altering the shell nanoshell size and thickness. Throughout parts of Europe nanoshells are known as coreshells.
Cooking Cancer With Nanoshells
The surface of nanoshells can be tailored with antibodies that will attach to the surface of a cancerous tumour. Laser light at a frequency corresponding to that of the nanoshells can pass harmlessly through tissue and be absorbed by the nanoshells. When the nanoshells are activated by the laser light, the nanoshells heat up causing the cancer cells to be “cooked”.