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Tiny Bubbles Destroy Cancer Cells
February 5, 2010
Tiny bubbles can pack quite a punch - creating nanoscale explosions that destroy
cancer cells.
Using lasers and nanoparticles, scientists discovered a new technique for singling out
individual diseased cells and demolishing them.
The scientists used lasers to make "nanobubbles" by zapping gold nanoparticles inside
cells. In tests on cancer cells, they found they could tune the lasers to create either
small, bright bubbles that were visible but harmless or large bubbles that burst the cells.
The term "nano" generally refers to stuff at the nanoscale that's no larger than 100
nanometers, where 1 nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. For comparison, a hair is
about 100,000 nm wide.
"Single-cell targeting is one of the most touted advantages of nanomedicine, and our
approach delivers on that promise with a localized effect inside an individual cell," said
study author Dmitri Lapotko, a physicist at Rice University in Texas. "The idea is to spot
and treat unhealthy cells early, before a disease progresses to the point of making
people extremely ill."
Previously, the scientists had applied nanobubbles to arterial plaque, and found the
bubbles could blast right through the deposits that block arteries.
"The bubbles work like a jackhammer," Lapotko said.
In the current study, they tested the approach on leukemia cells and cells from head and
neck cancers. They attached antibodies to the nanoparticles so they would target only
the cancer cells, and they found the technique was effective at locating and killing the
cancer cells.
The short-lived bubbles are very bright and can be made smaller or larger by varying the
power of the laser. Because they are visible under a microscope, nanobubbles can be
used to either diagnose sick cells or to track the explosions that are destroying them.
The results were published online Jan. 25 in the journal Nanotechnology.