Anti-Cancer Applications of Nanotechnology: Drug Delivery

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Nanotechnology is turning out to be an enormously versatile field of science: with applications in electronics, microscopy, robotics, and medicine, it seems that many different avenues of research are covered.

In medical science itself, the field of possibilities for nanotechnology is just as diverse. One particular field of interest in medicine is the possibility of using nanotechnology in the treatment of cancer.

Using Carbon Nanotubes to Target Tumors In Vivo

One possible application involves the use of carbon nanotubes, which are essentially sheets of graphite rolled up into a cylindrical conformation. A recently-published research paper discusses how the development of a microscope which can measure spectroscopic signals in living mice has contributed to the advancement of carbon nanotube technology for cancer treatment.

The research, which recently appeared in the journal Nano Letters, was carried out by a team of researchers at the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence Focused on Therapy Response at Stanford University.

The development of this kind of microscopy has provided researchers with a way of looking at what happens to carbon nanotubes in vivo, and where they go after they have been introduced into the bloodstream.

For the project, two groups of nanotubes were used. Both identical, but one differed slightly, with the addition of a peptide called RGD, which is known as a tumor-targeting peptide (meaning it can bind to proteins on tumor cells). Using Raman spectroscopic microscopy, the researchers were able to examine the difference in activity between the two types of carbon nanotubes.

Between the RGD-labeled nanotubes and the non-labeled variety, there was an enormous difference: both types were found in the tumor, but after only 20 minutes, the concentration unlabeled nanotubes began to decrease. In the case of the RGD-labeled nanotubes, the concentration remained high for at least 72 hours.

The significance of this research is that RGD, with its ability to bind tumor cells, can be used in conjunction with carbon nanotubes within which are contained cytotoxic drugs. By using RGD to target tumor cells, the drugs are delivered selectively only to cancerous cells, helping to eliminate the toxicity and side effects of conventional cancer chemotherapy treatments.


Noninvasive Raman Spectroscopy in Living Mice for Evaluation of Tumor Targeting With Carbon Nanotubes. Nano Letters, 2008, 8 (9), pp 2800–2805.