You could say the force is strong in physics professor Kishan Dholakia and Dr Frank Gunn-Moore of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. With a deluge of nanotech cancer treatments being developed, the pair have developed a superior way perhaps to fight cancer -- with "lightsabers".
The miniature device, just a few millimeters long extends a "lightsaber" laser beam. The beam is so accurate it can target a single cell. The device would be perfect for hard to reach cancers that typically have high fatality rates, such as cancer of the pancreas. The little lightsaber can punch holes in cells surrounding the spot of a remove tumor, allowing chemo drugs to be selectively delivered to only the cells at risk.
The team currently has the light saber mounted on an optical fiber. The team is now working on adapting it to endoscopes, tiny cameras used by doctors during routine medical procedures. Putting the saber on the end of the camera, researchers could sneak a peak of the region and then go to work punching holes in cells as needed.
Dr. Gun-Moore, obviously a fan of the science-fiction movie franchise Star Wars, enthused about the new real-life research breakthrough, "You could think of these as tiny light sabers like they had in Star Wars inside your body. We can use lasers to punch tiny holes exactly where we want them. We can produce a rod of light - sometimes described as a sword - that can even go around objects. It really does sound like science fiction."
The device could solve a persistent problem in the field of medicine. The most desirable drug would seem to be the one that is most effective at killing cancer cells. However, many of the best drugs have poor solubility, making their delivery difficult to near impossible.
The new device creates an alternative -- low solubility drugs can be optimally delivered through a process called "photoporation". By using the new "lightsaber" to punch multiple pores in a cell membrane, large insoluble drug molecules can pass through the membrane. Further, the method could also be used to deliver genes to cells and extend the applications of gene therapy, useful in treating diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
The device could also be used in the lab to make drug testing easier. By punching holes in cells, drugs could be delivered to them and evaluated solely on their effectiveness, removing solubility from the mix. The process could also help to speed up the testing.
The pair looks to bring their device to hospitals across the country in as little as five years. Dr Gunn-Moore says one of the first potential applications is in treatment of Alzheimer's disease.