Tiny golden "bullets" could eventually be used to target and destroy cancerous tumours while leaving healthy tissue unharmed… researchers used nanoshells – tiny particles of silica coated with gold – to apply heat to tumours and destroy them using near-infrared light, a type of low-energy radiation.
From Dr. West's website at Rice:
Nanoshells are a new type of nanoparticle with tunable optical properties. For medical applications, these particles can be designed to strongly absorb or scatter light in the near infrared where tissue and blood are relatively transparent. In a cancer therapy application, nanoshells are designed to absorb light and convert the energy to heat for tumor destruction. By conjugating antibodies or peptides to the nanoshell surfaces, binding of nanoshells can be targeted to cancerous cells, and subsequent exposure to near infrared light results in specific and localized destruction of the cancerous cells. A photothermally modulated drug delivery system, optically-controlled valves for microfluidics devices, and a rapid whole blood immunoassay are also under development using nanoshells.
The big advantage of this work over the Sloan-Kettering work is that there is no need for exotic, expensive, time-sensitive materials which can only be produced with a nuclear reactor.