Fighting cancer is getting very 22nd century with the introduction of a new technique from researchers at the University of Georgia. The science of it gets a little bit complicated, but suffice it to say it's pretty futuristic. Lasers and nanoparticles are involved.
Coaxing the immune system into fighting cancer has long been an area of interest for cancer research, and this new treatment is no different. In their experiment, the Georgia researchers sent an army of nanoparticles into a petri dish full of breast cancer cells. The nanoparticles then invaded the cells, targeting the mitochondria, where they get their energy and wait. Researchers then blasted the nanoparticles with a laser that can penetrate tissue, activating them and choking the cancer cells of their energy source.
Once dead, the cancer cells are a prime target for the body's immune system. Specifically, the cancer cells attract dendritic cells, the cells that signal for the rest of the immune system to attack. Shanta Dhar, co-author of a paper on the new treatment, explains, "Dendritic cells recognized the cancer as something foreign and began to produce high levels of interferon-gamma, which alerts the rest of the immune system to a foreign presence and signals it to attack. We basically used the cancer against itself." With lasers.
This is hardly the first cancer treatment to recruit nanoparticles to do the dirty work, though the introduction of lasers is pretty novel. Nanoparticles are often used to deliver drugs, especially those that are highly toxic, directly to cancer cells, and one method described earlier this year even uses gold nanoparticles, which I'm guessing is fairly expensive. Scientists have also used nanoparticles to stop cancer from spreading. But lasers? This is a welcome development. [PhysOrg]
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