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The Realm of the Very Small

Nanotechnology is the art of manipulating matter on the “nanoscopic” scale, which ranges from one to 100 nanometers (or, 0.000000039 to 0.0000039 inches) in size. Structures and devices manufactured on this scale are small enough to move in and out of blood vessels and interact with individual human cells. Because nanoscale devices can gain access to so many areas of the body, they have the potential to radically change the way we diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer.

Launched in 2004, the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer is a comprehensive, systematized initiative, involving both the public and private sectors, to accelerate the application of nanotechnology discoveries and tools to cancer. As part of this initiative, NCI has funded nine multidisciplinary centers for nanotechnology research and development, including institutions associated with the cancer centers at Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Dartmouth College, MIT and Harvard, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Texas in Houston. These centers have been busily moving new nanotechnology-enabled cancer diagnostic and imaging techniques and treatments through preclinical development and into clinical trials.

NCI has also established the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory, which creates assay protocols and characterizes nanoparticles through collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Video Journey Into Nanotechnology

In the fight against cancer, nanotechnology introduces unique approaches to diagnosis and treatment that could not even be imagined with conventional technology. New tools engineered at sizes much smaller than a human cell will enable researchers and clinicians to detect cancer earlier, treat it with much greater precision and fewer side effects, and, possibly, stop the disease long before it can do any harm. Take a Video Journey Into Nanotechnology to see how this field of science is changing the way we look at cancer.


Nanotech Throughout the Cancer Centers

Many other NCI-designated cancer centers around the country have active nanotechnology research programs:

  • Dr. Jim Heath’s laboratory at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center developed the Integrated Blood-Barcode Chip (IBBC), which helps to stratify cancer patients based on blood serum profiling. This innovative device will dramatically reduce the time necessary for diagnostic medical testing.
  • Dr. Otto Zhou’s team at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has employed an advanced imaging technique known as tomosynthesis with breast cancer patients, who are exposed to less radiation and finished with their imaging session much quicker than the time for mammography. UNC’s new X-ray emitters deploy carbon nanotubes, which are less expensive, smaller, and require lower voltages than traditional CT machines.
  • Baylor University is working with Rice University and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to use nanotechnology to find better ways to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.
  • UCLA is emphasizing the use of nanotechnology to develop novel drug delivery systems.
  • Washington University includes nanotechnology in its transdisciplinary research.
  • Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute benefits from a special bio-nanotechnology support center.

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  • Posted: August 13, 2012