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Nanotechnology: A Magic Bullet to Cure Cancer 
 
by Mark R. Whittington September 14, 2005

Nanotechnology and Cancer

Most animal cells are about ten thousand to twenty thousand nanometers in diameter. Therefore, it would be easy for nanodevices to enter and interact with the cells DNA and proteins.

Nanotechnology can be used to fight cancer in two ways. First, it will be used in detecting the presence of cancer far earlier and with greater precision than with standard diagnostic methods, such as x-rays, MRIs, and biopsies. Second, it will be used in the destruction of the cancer, with greater precision and thoroughness, once it is detected.

Detecting Cancer

It is practically a cliché in medicine that early detection of cancer translates into a greater probability of treating the cancer successfully. There are several nanotechnology tools being developed that could detect cancer when it is still at the molecular level. Some nanodevices are being developed that could detect alterations of a cell’s DNA that is a precursor to the development of cancer tumors. Other nanodevices are being developed that would have the capability to bind to cancer cells and not normal cells, thus making detection easier. Still other nanodevices could detect cancer “biomarkers” in a sample of human blood far earlier than current tests allow. The advantages of these methods are that they can detect cancer early, without exploratory surgery, and without physically altering the cells being examined.

Curing Cancer

Nanotechnology’s greatest promise in medicine is its potential to destroy cancers that until now have been resistant to conventional treatments.

Modern chemotherapy and radiation can be best described as carpet bombing cancer. That means that healthy cells are attacked along with the cancer cells. The result is that the patient suffers serious side effects, including nausea, hair loss, anemia, and the degradation of his or her immune system. The lack of precision inherent in modern cancer fighting techniques sometimes means that not all of a cancer is eradicated, resulting in a resurgence of the cancer.

Nanotechnology provides the potential of a cancer fighting smart bomb. Nanodevices can be built that can precisely deliver drugs to the cancer cells, leaving healthy cells untouched. These devices would enter the previously detected cancer cells and deliver the drug or combination of drugs, destroying the cancer from within.

Another potential technique combines nanotechnology with a new form of radiation therapy. Carbon nanotubes are introduced into cancer cells. Then an infrared laser is focused on the affected area. The laser heats the nanotubes, causing the destruction of the cancer cells, leaving healthy cells untouched.

Another technique imagined for treating cancer would involve nanocomputers literally rewriting the DNA of cancer cells to turn them back into normal cells. The idea would be that these devices would examine the DNA of cancer cells on the atomic level, comparing them to what the DNA of normal cells for the patient should be, and then calling in nanorepair devices to fix the DNA.

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