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Nanoparticles created to seek out cancer cells

Cancerous cells appear different than healthy cells. These differences can be acoustic or visual, in terms of patterns of darkness and light. With the latter, research is underway using nanoparticles to detect these differences. Here nanoparticles can be designed to attach to cancerous cells and then, once medics direct special light to regions of the body, indicate the presence of cancerous cells or tumors through produced a type of luminescence.

One of the difficulties in creating nanoparticles to screen for cancerous cells is with the purity of the material. A second problem is with the shape, for the technologies for cancer screening require near-perfect spheres. Other shapes mean that the technique of photoluminescence does not work as effectively. A third concern is that often the by-product of the process to form the nanoparticles renders them toxic.

These issues are being examined at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, where researchers have been seeking improvements. According to Professor Victor Timoshenko a new method is delivering promising results. The method is termed laser ablation and it involves the ejection of atoms from the target with a laser beam.

The torn atoms then form a nanocrystal of the correct shape, provided they are warmed at the correct rate in order to encourage crystallization. The warming is achieved through the use of high-intensity, short laser pulses.

In trials, the researchers created nanoparticles of good spherical shape of the right size (2-4 nanometers in diameter.) These have been tested out in biological experiments and have been shown to easily penetrate into cancerous cells, enabling their detection.

The success should build on progress with nanotechnology for cancer scanning and for advancing the non-invasive method, perhaps one day replacing the need for biopsy.

The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The paper is titled “Laser-synthesized oxide-passivated bright Si quantum dots for bioimaging.”

In related news, researchers have successfully used nanoparticles to deliver tumor supressing medication, as part of a potential — and novel — anti-cancer treatment. The focus is on cancer of the liver, using synthetic “dendrimer” nanoparticles.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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