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Buckyball, Anyone?

Originally Published MPMN October 2004

EDITOR'S PAGE

Buckyball, Anyone?

Back in the days of Hippocrates, a diagnosis of cancer was pretty hopeless. Doctors would do what they could to cure you—usually by cutting out the tumor (without anesthesia)–but they knew that the disease was likely to return.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and fortunately, cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence. Today, there are all kinds of sophisticated surgical techniques and chemotherapy regimens to manage the disease. And promising new treatments are being studied, from liposomal and monoclonal antibody therapies to stem-cell transplantation.

Yet, as it was for the ancients, the cure remains elusive.

Or is it? Could molecule-sized devices called buckyballs be the answer? The National Cancer Institute (NCI) hopes so. It has announced a 5-year plan to develop the use of this nanotechnology to fight cancer.
The $144.5 million plan includes an initiative to team up researchers, physicians, companies, and not-for-profit groups to develop nanotechnology products for use in diagnosing and treating the disease.

NCI is currently developing funding mechanisms for this initiative. The plan will include $38 million in grants to researchers for specific projects.

Buckyballs have great potential as medical devices. The molecules consist of 60 carbon atoms, all linked together to form hollow, spherical balls with amazing properties. They spin at more than one hundred million times per second. They can withstand slamming into a stainless-steel plate at 15,000 mph and bounce back unharmed. And when compressed to 70% of their original size, they become more than twice as hard as diamonds.

Because they are hollow, all elements in the periodic table will fit inside them. This opens up all kinds of potential medical uses. Drugs could be administered molecularly. Or individual radioactive molecules could be contained within the buckyball for specific treatment of a cancer.

“The possibilities are enormous for finding very small cancers far earlier than ever before and treating them with powerful drugs at the tumor site alone, while at the same time reducing harmful side effects,” says Samuel Wickline, MD, of Washington University in St. Louis. “This initiative will allow us to explore using this technology to its full potential.”

FDA is on board too. Janet Woodcock, acting deputy commissioner, was quoted as saying her agency was gearing up to approve new nanodevices in medicine.

Will buckyballs be the answer to curing cancer? That remains to be seen, but NCI is doing the right thing by supporting research and product development in nanotechnology.

Susan Wallace, Managing Editor

Copyright ©2004 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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