Ravi S. Kane, professor of chemical and biological engineering,
and his team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have devised a way to target
harmful agents in the body and neutralize them without physical or chemical
intervention. Kane’s method is similar to similar to other remote
control cancer killers and uses the widely popular carbon nanotube (CNT) as
Using various tuned peptides attached to the CNT as homing devices, the
microscopic particles can seek out a programmed protein, such as anthrax toxin
or cancer cells. Since the peptide coating on the CNT can be changed, groups of
different neutralizers can be used in the same application without adversely
affecting any other proteins.
Rather than using a microwave pulse, the Rensselaer method uses near-infrared
light to act as a catalyst, activating the neutralizing agent. Different
coatings can be made to respond to different frequencies of light, thus the
same batch of CNTs could be used on several different toxins, drugs, or cells
simultaneously. One type can be targeted specifically by using a single
wavelength of light to which that neutralizer responds.
When the invisible, harmless light is shined on the CNTs that have found a
target protein, they release free radicals called reactive oxygen species.
These free radicals deactivate the target protein, rendering it harmless.
Kane's technique uses virtually no invasive methods and has other applications
apart from a blood-borne detoxicant. His team has already developed a film that
uses the nanotubes. "The ability of these coatings to generate reactive
oxygen species upon exposure to light might allow these coatings to kill any
bacteria that have attached to them. You could use these transparent coatings
on countertops, doorknobs, in hospitals or airplanes -- essentially any
surface, inside or outside, that might be exposed to harmful
contaminants," Kane explained.
The method could also be used as a way to destroy toxins and pathogens in
laboratories, saving money and man hours on hazardous biological disposal