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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The many uses of nanoparticles


I have a confession to make.  The main reason I wanted to write about the research of João Conde, Gonçalo Doria, and Pedro Baptista of Universidade Nova de Lisboa is that I love the diagram they included in their paper.  Here it is:

751075.fig.001



Neat huh?  I could stare at that picture for a long time.  But what does it mean?  Basically, it’s a chart of all the ways that nanoparticles (NPs) can be used to combat tumors.  On the right is a tumor embedded within normal tissue.  The tumor and the NPs are magnified on the left.  You can see that NPs are like a Swiss army knife for medical applications.  They can contain anti-sense RNA,  small RNA molecules that interfere with normal gene expression in order to silence tumor genes (top left).  They can deliver a variety of drugs and chemicals through the blood stream to the tumor (bottom right). NPs can be configured to convert specific electromagnetic waves into heat or radiation, effectively cooking tumor cells into oblivion (middle top and bottom, respectively).  They can even be used to optimize imaging of the tumor and surrounding tissue (far right). And best of all, NPs can be targeted so precisely that only tumor cells are affected (bottom left).


NPs are still being investigated to address safety concerns (symbolized on the top right).  Interestingly, it seems that larger nanoparticles (between 10 and 100 nanometers across) are less toxic than smaller ones (particles less than 2 nanometers across).  As more research is done, I’m sure even more uses will be found for these tiny structures.