Nanoshells - When nanotech meets biotech

Gold nanoshells, which were invented by Rice University researcher Naomi Halas in the mid-1990s, are smaller than red blood cells. Their core is nonconducting, and by varying the size of the core and thickness of the shell, researchers can tune them to respond to different wavelengths of light. That's what researchers from Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have done.

They successfully destroyed tumors of human brain cancer cells in the first animal tests of a minimally invasive treatment that zaps glioma tumors with nanoshell heat. The researchers reported that four of seven mice that received the new treatment for glioma tumors had no signs of cancer more than three months after treatment. Human trials are at least a year away. Article

The hollow silica spheres covered with gold have not strayed far from their birthplace. They're being tested elsewhere in Houston, at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where researchers report they're killing breast cancer cells at a previously unreachable root level. In a mouse study, Houston researchers say, the nanoshells delivered heat to breast cancer tumors already treated with radiation and not only shrank the tumor but also dramatically decreased the population of cancer stem cells. It's the stem cells that enable tumors to renew and grow. "This is a study of extraordinary significance," Dr. Wendy Woodward, a radiation oncologist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, told the Houston Chronicle. "We have worked with every imaginable drug and genetic therapy to make cancer stem cells sensitive to radiation without success until this."

The nanoshell/radiation combination, heated with near-infrared laser, is being tested in head and neck cancer trials in Houston and Dallas. Nanospectra Biosciences, also based in Houston, holds the license for medical use of Rice's nanoshell technology. Article

If the trials are successful, it will be the beginning of a big payoff for Halas and Rice University, after nearly 20 years of nanoshell development.

Nanoshells - When nanotech meets biotech
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