~ Nanotechnology - New Hope in Fight to Help Terminal Disease Sufferers

The Northern Echo, 07-08-05

Scientists have spent decades looking for the "magic bullet" that could fight cancer - now technology is giving them hope that a solution could be within sight. Health editor BARRY NELSON reports

TINY "nanoshells" injected in the blood stream to home in on cancer cells will offer new hope to terminal disease sufferers, scientists predicted yesterday.

World experts on nanotechnology are meeting in the UK's first conference on nanomedicine at Newcastle University this week.

Nanomedicine promises to revolutionise healthcare by providing new sub-microscopic tools to detect, manage and cure a range of diseases.

Professor Mauro Ferrari, who advises the American National Cancer Institute on nanomedicine, said that it will soon be possible to treat cancer as a chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension rather than a killer.

"Within a decade, it will be possible to intervene in cancers so they would not be an acute disease. Instead of being a death sentence, they will be transformed into a chronic disease which can be managed for a long period of time, " said Prof Ferrari.

He predicted that one way of turning cancer from a mortal enemy into a nuisance was to use nanomedicine to pick up the early signs of cancer.

This could involve a range of injectable materials, tiny sentinels which could monitor the bloodstream of patients to detect early signs of the disease.

Five centres have been set up in the US to develop nano- medicine.

"The priority is early detection of cancer and multi-functional treatment, " said Prof Ferrari.

Among the nanomedical alternatives under consideration are "nanowires" which can detect biomarkers of cancer in body fluids and minute silicon beams which distort when cancers are detected.

Prof Ferrari also talked about new ways to more accurately target tumours.

"Oxide particles can now be injected into the brain which will identify cancerous regions.

"They can be picked up on MRI scans and used during surgery.

They can also carry drugs."

Another approach was to use so-called nanoshells, a gold coated silicon particle which homes in on the cancer cell.

By shining an infra-red light, the nanoshell heats up and destroys the cancerous tissue, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Professor Ruth Duncan, director of the Centre for Polymer Therapeutics at Cardiff Unversity, said remarkable progress had been made in a relatively short time.

A growing number of nano products have received approval from regulatory authorities and are in action, including an anti-MS drug and a viracidal gel which can be used by women to prevent HIV transmission during sex.

Conference chairman Professor Andrew McCaskie of Newcastle University stressed how far nanomedicine had come in a short time.

"Much of what we can do now would not have been possible before 2000, " said Prof McCaskie.

The conference was jointly sponsored by CELS (Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences) and Cenamps, two of the North-East's centres of excellence.

North-East scientists have been funded by the Medical Research Council to develop new ways of making silicon particles.

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