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Nanotech News

July 2008

Nanotechnology, Biomolecules, and Light Unite to “Cook” Cancer Cells

Using carbon nanotubes linked to tumor-homing antibodies, a research team headed by Ellen Vitetta, Ph.D., M.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has shown that they can specifically kill the targeted tumor cells using near-infrared light. This work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In this study, the investigators used monoclonal antibodies that targeted specific sites on lymphoma cells to coat carbon nanotubes. When exposed to near-infrared light, carbon nanotubes generate significant amounts of heat that can kill cells.

In cultures of cancerous lymphoma cells, the antibody-coated nanotubes attached to the cells’ surfaces. When the targeted cells were then exposed to near-infrared light, the nanotubes heated up, generating enough heat to essentially “cook” the cells and kill them. Nanotubes coated with an unrelated antibody neither bound to nor killed the tumor cells.

“Using near-infrared light for the induction of hyperthermia is particularly attractive because living tissues do not strongly absorb radiation in this range,” said Dr. Vitetta. “Once the carbon nanotubes have bound to the tumor cells, an external source of near-infrared light can be used to safely penetrate normal tissues and kill the tumor cells.”

The use of carbon nanotubes to destroy cancer cells with heat is being explored by several research groups, but the new study is the first to show that both the antibody and the carbon nanotubes retained their physical properties and their functional abilities, binding to and killing only the targeted cells. This was true even when the antibody-nanotube complex was placed in a setting designed to mimic conditions inside the human body.

This work is detailed in the paper “Thermal Ablation of Tumor Cells with Antibody-Functionalized Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes.” Investigators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Dallas also participated in this study. An abstract of this paper is available through PubMed.
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