UCLA researchers call the nanoimpeller an exciting first development in nanomachine treatments for cancer

Nanotechnology may hold the ability for medicine to treat and cure many diseases and illnesses previously deemed impractical by current methods. Tiny nanotechnology devices may one day swarm through the circulatory system of the ill looking for cancer cells to destroy.

Before this can happen, nanotechnology has to evolve to a level where it is effective and safe to use on humans. Researchers at UCLA are one step closer to having a viable and effective nanotechnology treatment for cancer today. Researchers from the Nano Machine Center at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA have developed a new nanomachine that can capture and store anticancer drugs. The tiny nano machines are called “nanoimpellers” and store anticancer medications inside tiny pores and release the drugs directly into cancer cells in response to light.

Researchers say that the new development has major implications for the treatment of some cancers. The study was conducted jointly by Jeffrey Zink and Fuyu Tamanoi. Zink is a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Tamanoi is a UCLA professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics.

The cancer fighting nanomachine developed by the researchers uses mesoporous silica nanoparticles with interiors of the pores coated with azobenzene. Azobenzene is a chemical that can oscillate between two conformations with light exposure.

The researchers found that the nanoimpellers were taken up by cancer cells and that when light was applied to the area where the cancer was located the nanoimpellers released the anticancer drug payload directly into the cancer cells. Confocal microscopic images showed that the operation of the nanoimpeller can be regulated precisely depending on the intensity of the light, excitation time and specific wavelength.

Zink said in a statement, “We developed a mechanism that releases small molecules in aqueous and biological environments during exposure to light. The nanomachines are positioned in molecular-sized pores inside of spherical particles and function in aqueous and biological environments."

Tamanoi adds, “The achievement here is gaining precise control of the amount of drugs that are released by controlling the light exposure. Controlled release to a specific location is the key issue. And the release is only activated by where the light is shining."

The researchers also stated, “We were extremely excited to discover that the machines were taken up by the cancer cells and that they responded to the light. We observed cell killing as a result of programmed cell death."

Both researchers point out that this is only an exciting first step in developing nanomachines to fight cancer and more steps are needed in the research to prove actual inhibition of tumor growth. Earlier this month researchers created nanowire detectors also aimed at use in the fight against cancer.

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