Fighting cancer using nanotechnology

Scientists working in a laboratory

Nanomaterials are not only used in consumer products, but also in new and innovative medical treatments. Research has shown that nanoparticles can be used to damage and even destroy cancer cells from within.

We all know how tough a cancer treatment can be. Traditional cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy do not only harm the cancer cells, but often also healthy ones. The treatments therefore often lead to unwanted side effects such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss and infection. And yet, there is no guarantee for a cure.

A powerful weapon

One of the ideas behind nanotechnology in cancer treatment is in many ways simple. Basically, it tries to target the effect of anti-cancer drugs more precisely. More accurately targeted treatment prevents us from harming healthy cells.

One of the methods, that has been tested on mice, is to inject a particular type of nanoparticle directly into the cancerous tumour. After the injection, a laser heats up the nanoparticles which then damage or even kill the cancer cells.

Early diagnosis is key

Yet another use of nanotechnology in the fight against cancer aims to locate the tumour at an earlier stage than would otherwise have been possible. Nanoparticles designed to attach to the cancer cells make tumours visible in scans earlier in the development of the disease. Since early diagnosis is vital for curing cancer, this is an important step in the fight against the disease.

The science of extremely small things

Nanotechnology is about manipulating matter at extremely small sizes. We do that because we are then able to change how some substances behave. Gold for instance, will change its colour and become red when it is broken down to the nano scale. That red colour has been used for centuries to give red stained glass its colour. Nanoparticles are, in other words, not something new, they also exist in nature. But, nanotechnology makes it possible to engineer nanomaterials and make use of their special properties.

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