How Nanotubes Could Improve Cancer Diagnostics

Nancy Crotti

July 22, 2014

3 Min Read
How Nanotubes Could Improve Cancer Diagnostics

University of Houston researchers are using nanoscience to extract molecules from live cells without killing or damaging the cells. Their method could lead to new possibilities for diagnosing cancer and other diseases.

The scientists used magnetized carbon nanotubes to retrieve molecular information safely from the cells. Nanoengineering allowed them to keep the cells alive and to assess changes in the cells over time, Zhifeng Ren, a physics professor and principal investigator at the university's Center for Superconductivity, explained in a recent news release.

Ren was lead author of a paper on the breakthrough published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His lab collaborated with that of Paul Chu, founding director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity.

The current research builds on a paper Red's group published in 2005 in Nature Methods, establishing that magnetized carbon nanotubes can deliver molecular material into cells. Now researchers can move molecules out of cells by magnetically driving them through the cell walls.

The researchers grew the carbon nanotubes with a plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition system, enclosing magnetic nickel particles at the tips. Each nanotube had a layer of nickel deposited along the surface to enable it to penetrate a cell wall guided by a magnet.

The magnetized carbon nanotubes acted as the transporter and a polycarbonate filter collected material from cells derived from a human embryonic kidney cancer cell line. It was a "relatively straightforward" method, the researchers said.

The technology allowed the researchers to draw information from a single cell rather than taking an average of many cells. Previous methods, which damaged or killed cells, obscured the specificity of biomarker profiles, challenging researchers and limiting their efficiency, said assistant physics professor Dong Cai.

Cai said the new method would be helpful for cancer drug screening and carcinogenesis study.

Scientists will now be able to further study and analyze the biological and chemical processes of the cell, holding out promise for biomedicine, according to Ren.

"The individual cells may be different, but you cannot see exactly how they function," added Chu.

Nanoscience is enabling all kinds of medical innovations.

Other researchers have shown they can use a designer nanoparticle, which is only a few billionths of a meter, or the size of a few molecules, to attach molecules that perform different functions. They can also design and fabricate a nanoparticle that contains a number of drugs, a cell-targeting vector, and an imaging component, as well as molecules that improve biocompatibility and uptake.

These precision-engineered nanoparticles may help perform imaging, drug-delivery, and cytotoxicity studies, according to research at Syracuse University.

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Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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About the Author(s)

Nancy Crotti

Nancy Crotti is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected].

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