Bubbles are created inside a cell using lasers and nano-size gold particles

The amount of money and time spent on research into treatments and cures for various cancers is staggering. Scientists are increasingly turning to high-tech methods of detecting and treating cancer that use nano-sized objects to deliver meds and kill cancer cells directly.

In October 2009, scientists developed  a new medication delivery system that is capable of delivering medications into the cells of the body. The “shuttle” would take the medications into a cell and could be opened remotely when needed.

Physicists at Rice University have developed  a new method of killing cancer cells using what they call nanobubbles.

The research team uses lasers and nanoparticles in a technique that is able to single out disease cells and destroy them with tiny explosions. The nanobubbles are created by hitting tiny nanoparticles of gold with  a laser inside the cell. In tests, the researchers found that they could tune the laser to make bright visible bubbles that don’t kill the cancer cells or large bubbles that bust the cells killing them.

Physicist Dmitri Lapotko from Rice said, "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. The idea is to spot and treat unhealthy cells early, before a disease progresses to the point of making people extremely ill."

The nanobubbles are created when the gold particles are hit by short laser pulses. The bubble size can be varied by controlling the strength of the laser and the bubbles produced are very short lived. The visible bubbles can be seen under a microscope allowing the technique to be used as a method of diagnosing sick cells or to track if the cells are killed with the tiny explosions. The researchers have also been able to show that the technique can be used to clear arteries blocked by plaque by busting the plaque with exploding bubbles.

Lapotko said, "The bubbles work like a jackhammer."

The researchers are currently conducting a study using the technique to study its effect on leukemia cells and on cancers of the head and neck. The nanobubble technology may be used to create a process dubbed theranostics where a single process can detect and treat disease conditions.

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