Nanoparticle Breakthroughs That Could Save Millions of LivesS

Although some kinds of nanomaterials (like carbon nanotubes) can be harmful to your health, scientists are quickly developing nanoparticle therapies that can fight cancer and bacterial infections better than any of our current medications.

Dr. Cathy Shachaf's team at the Stanford University School of Medicine has developed a nanoparticle application that she expects will allow doctors to examine up to 100 distinct features in individual cancer cells — similar to how radioactive dyes are now used to highlight organs for more traditional scanning technologies. Shachaf and her term successfully integrated Raman signal emitting molecules with composite organic-inorganic nanoparticles (COINs) from Intel to boost the strength of the signals and allow the team to track changes in the functioning of certain proteins in leukemia cells that play a role in cancer development.

Two other teams are using nanoparticles to combat drug-resistant bacteria. The first team, based at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, are specifically interested in using peptide nanoparticles to penetrate the blood-brain barrier in order to combat brain infections. In their studies, they've not only demonstrated that the peptide nanoparticles can — unlike most antibiotics - penetrate that barrier and successfully target bacterial, yeast or viral infections. Because of their small size, the nanoparticles enter the attacking cells, causing them to die — but without affecting normal human cells.

Brown University researchers Thomas Webster and Erik Taylor are using iron-ozide nanoparticles to kill the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis that has a tendency to accumulate on medical devices in therapeutic settings. The staph bacteria is particularly difficult to eliminate from medical implants — like knee and hip replacements — and often result in a full removal of the device. But Webster and Taylor found that the iron oxide nanoparticles can be forced through the bacterial cell walls with the use of magnets, virtually eliminating the staff infection from the device and — reportedly — encouraging normal bone growth around the implant.

Of course, all of this works right up until the nanoparticles give you the cancer other scientists have predicted they will.

Harnessing nanoparticles to track cancer cell changes [Nanowerk]
Singapore nanotechnology combats fatal brain infections [EurekAlert]
Implant Bacteria, Beware: Researchers Create Nano-sized Assassins [Science Daily]

[Image via the National Science Foundation]