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Nanotechnology to fight cancer

Fluorescent properties of quantum dots (color emitted depends on the particle size) aimed to detect the cancer
Fluorescent properties of quantum dots (color emitted depends on the particle size) aimed to detect the cancer

Fluorescent markers help the surgeon to identify in real time the contours of the malignant tumor. Such "smart" drugs can be activated remotely when they reach their target.

Like other fields of medicine, cancer begins the era of nanotechnology. Most of the tiny nanotools, sized a billionth ("nano" in Greek) of a meter, are still at the research stage. But they open exciting opportunities for both cancer diagnose and treatment.

As for diagnostics, a major challenge is to develop nanoprobes capable of binding to cancer cells. Injected into the body, they may reveal the presence of a tumor by emitting a signal, radioactive or optical for example.

Scientists say that the ideal tracer, which marks 100% cancer cells, is probably a myth. Researchers are working on two promising approaches one of which, the nanoemulsion of fluorophore, that can illuminate the lymphatic system.

This tracer when testing in animals, identified the pathways by which cancer cells are scattered in the patient's body. By protecting the fluorophore, the nanoemulsion yields a very high brightness and high stability, which can help to  apply this technique to many types of cancer.

There are also a marker of angiogenesis, i.e. formation of new blood vessels that accompanies the growth of cancerous tumors. Coupled to the optical system it will help the surgeon to directly visualize the potentially cancerous cells and the limits of the tumor during surgery.

Currently under study in small animals, this marker will nevertheless go through the same workflow as a drug. Early clinical trials are planned around 2011.


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