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Understanding NCI Series: The Impact of Nanotechnology Research on Cancer Patients

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 damage. Imagine a nanoparticle that can be used to light up a tumor in an MRI, destroy cancer cells by converting magnetic fields into heat, and allow the physician to visually track the progress of treatment.

To learn more about the possibilities of nanotechnology in cancer, join the National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer for a briefing, "The Impact of Nanotechnology Research on Cancer Patients." Additional resources are also available below.

Take a Video Journey into the World of Nanotechnology in Cancer.
Click here to launch the online video player.

October 31, 2006

Featured Speakers:

  • Dr. Piotr Grodzinski, Program Director, NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer
  • Mr. Travis Earles, Technology Program Manager, NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer
  • Mr. Wayland Eppard, NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer Patient Advocate Representative

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is the development and engineering of devices so small that they are measured on a molecular scale. This emerging field involves scientists from many different disciplines, including physicists, chemists, engineers, information technologists, and material scientists, as well as biologists. Nanotechnology is being applied to almost every field imaginable, including electronics, magnetics, optics, information technology, materials development, and biomedicine.

The Size of Things

Nanoscale devices are somewhere from one hundred to ten thousand times smaller than human cells. They are similar in size to large biological molecules ("biomolecules") such as enzymes and receptors. As an example, hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in red blood cells, is approximately 5 nanometers in diameter. Nanoscale devices smaller than 50 nanometers can easily enter most cells, while those smaller than 20 nanometers can move out of blood vessels as they circulate through the body.

Because of their small size, nanoscale devices can readily interact with biomolecules on both the surface of cells and inside of cells. By gaining access to so many areas of the body, they have the potential to detect disease and deliver treatment in ways unimagined before now. Since biological processes—including events that lead to cancer—occur at the nanoscale at and inside cells, nanotechnology offers a wealth of tools that are providing cancer researchers with new and innovative ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

Over the next five years, the NCI will fund $144.3 million in research and development through the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. This Alliance will direct research efforts and facilitate partnerships across the scientific and research communities and the public and private sectors. These efforts capitalize on the multidisciplinary nature of nanotechnology development and will hasten its application to the elimination of suffering and death due to cancer.

To learn more about the four program components of the Alliance, please click on the links below: