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Getting Tiny Breast Cancer Killers Just Right

January 19, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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How do you precisely shape a hollow silicon wafer one thousandth of a millimeter in diameter? Scientists at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston have figured out a way. Their efforts may result in a better way to destroy breast cancer cells.

The wafers have to be exactly the right shape and size to bind to breast cancer cells and not other types of cells, and their surface chemistry has to be just right as well. The scientists also attach a type of organic compound called a polyamine to the wafers to improve the solubility and the attraction to cancer cell surfaces. And they stuff a hollow gold particle inside each wafer.

Injected into the body, these precisely engineered nanoparticles cling to breast cancer cells. When targeted by a near-infrared laser, the particles heat up by about 20 degrees centigrade in seven minutes, cooking the cancer cells.

For details, see the study, published this month in the new journal Advanced Healthcare Materials.

The scientists said they were looking forward to testing their lab results in human clinical trials. The Research Institute’s Haifa Shen, MD, PhD, lead author of the study, said:

We are planning preclinical studies to study the technology’s impact on whole tissues, breast cancer cells, and possibly pancreatic cancer cells. We would also like to see whether this approach makes chemotherapy more effective, meaning you could use less drugs to achieve the same degree of success in treating tumors.

Dr. Shen was quoted in an institute news release.

Previous attempts to use hollow gold nanoparticles heated by a laser to destroy targeted cells in the body have not worked especially well, he said. “Multiple investigators have tried to use gold nanoparticles for cancer treatment, but the efficiency has not been very good. They’d need a lot of gold nanoparticles to treat a tumor.”

Hence the idea to stick the gold inside the precisely shaped silicon wafers—so tiny that they’re a 10th the size of a breast cancer cell. It’s a tricky process in many ways.

“The hollow gold particles we load into the porous silicon must be the right size and have the correct-sized space inside them to interact with the infrared light we are using,” Dr. Shen said. “But the wavelength of infrared we use will have to change depending on where the tumor is. If it’s close to the skin, we can use shorter wavelengths. Deeper inside the body, we have to use longer wavelengths of infrared to penetrate the tissue. The hollow space of the gold particles must be modified in response to that.”

Amazing. And very cool.

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography

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