Click to view One of the biggest problems for doctors dealing with tumors is getting medicine to the targeted part of the body. When you want to dose only a very specific area in the body, a shot or pill won't cut it: The medicine doesn't reach the target tissues in a high-enough concentration, and often the cure is destroyed by the body's own immune system. That's why a team of researchers at UC San Diego have invented stealthy nano-missiles that seek and destroy malfunctioning cells by using camouflage, surveillance, a hidden payload.
Each nano-missile, which its inventors also call (charmingly) a "chocolate-covered nut cluster," is able to evade detection in the body for hours because it's coated in a specially-modified lipid (the chocolate coating) that makes it look like a typical cell as it tumbles through your bloodstream. Attached to the outside of the missile is a protein called F3, a molecule that binds to cancer cells. F3 does surveillance, looking for target cells. When the missile finds those cells, it releases its payload — cancer drugs and florescent markers called quantum dots that tell doctors where cancer cells have been hit. (You can see the glow of the quantum dots in a vial full of the nano at left.) Essentially, these researchers have developed one of the first smart drug delivery systems. This is a drug that literally seeks out diseased tissue and hits only that tissue with its payload. Ji-Ho Park, a researcher who worked on the study, said:
This study provides the first example of a single nanomaterial used for simultaneous drug delivery and multimode imaging of diseased tissue in a live animal.
The nano-missile has been tested in mice. Next, the researchers hope to make the missiles even more targeted by coating them with proteins that seek out specific tumors or organs. Researchers Develop Nano-Sized Cargo Ships [via UC San Diego News]