Carbon Nanotubes Cook Cancer

Illustration for article titled Carbon Nanotubes Cook Cancer

The world needs new ways of murdering cancer cells, and scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have delivered. Their weapon? The much-hyped carbon nanotube, which apart from being electrically conductive, able to be woven into stronger-than-steel fabrics, and just all-around awesome, also happens to useful as an anti-cancer smart missile. By attaching the tubes to an antibody that searches out cancers and binds to it, nanotech expert Pavitra Chakravarty and her colleagues found a way to deliver nanotubes to the cancer. Just about the only thing the tubes appear incapable of is carrying a warhead, though, so researchers fired near-infrared light at the tubes, heating them up until they cooked the cancer into oblivion.

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Previous work with antibodies-as-cancer-killing-smart-missiles has involved attaching strong, nasty chemotherapy drugs to the antibodies. That's a good option, but even better would be to not have harsh chemicals circulating in your blood stream in the first place. Using nanotubes and infrared light is a good, pretty safe alternative because IR radiation doesn't damage living tissue. The only drawback is the tumors will need to be less than 1.5 inches deep in the body, about the limit for the radiation's effectiveness.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

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DISCUSSION

Corpore Metal

@Final: Actually many chemotherapy agents are toxic and some are cancerous if not used correctly.

This makes some sense, right? Chemotherapy, bluntly put, is like dusting crops with herbicides—you hope to avoid using too much that it winds up killing all the plants in the field. Chemotherpy poisons the target tissues in hopes of killing the cancer cells before killing the surrounding tissue. It's a really messy, sloppy kludge of a treatment.

What they are proposing here is far more precise. The antibodies will only target the cancer cells so far less agent is needed—sort of like the proverbial magic bullet.

So, if carbon nanotubes of this length are cancerous, they'll be used in such small quantities that the risk is much smaller than with conventional chemotherapy.

As a side note, now that we know how to make carbon nanotubes we've been finding them in more and more unexpected locations—lamp black, carbon arc droplets, campfire ashes. Apparently we've been making carbon nanotubes for a very long time without realizing it.