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How Do Doctors Target Diseased Cells?

Western Carolina University team
Left to Right: Steven Handy (animator), Emily Whitaker (composer), and Mary Anna LaFratta (graphic design faculty) and Dr. Bruce Frazier (music faculty). Kay Forbey (composer) is not present.

While the tools that allow scientists to work at the nanoscale have only been around for a few decades, biology has always operated at the nanoscale.

Researchers are designing nanomaterials to take advantage of the body’s natural processes in order to more precisely target and treat disease. This is especially true with some types of cancer.

Student animator Steven Handy, from Western Carolina University, was able to show how nanotechnology is allowing doctors to protect healthy cells while attacking tumors with chemotherapy. Nanocarriers allow doctors to deliver higher levels of toxic drugs to cancer cells while reducing side effects in patients, like hair loss, because the drugs don’t start working right away on all cells. Instead, the drugs circulate in the body tied up in nanoparticles which slowly release their deadly payload after enough time has passed for the nanocarriers to accumulate in a tumor.

While right now researchers are relying on leaky blood vessels to help with the delivery of nanoparticles, in the future they hope to again use cancerous cells’ own properties against them. By adding molecules to nanocarriers that can specifically bind to unique molecules on cancer cells, like a key fitting a specific lock, doctors will be able to better protect patients while knowing they’re bombarding tumors with chemotherapy.

To learn more about nanotechnology, watch “How Do You See the Nanoscale?”, “What’s a Quantum Dot?”, “What Can Nanotechnology Do For You?”, “How Can Nanotechnology Save Energy?”, and “How Will Nanotechnology Improve Your Health?

Article by: Dr. Quinn Spadola who serves as Program Manager for Education and Outreach as a member of the contract staff in the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.