Health and Medicine Nanotechnology

Targeted Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes Used to Develop Non-Invasive Cancer Therapy

carbon nanotubes
Graphic courtesy of Oregon State University

In 2016, an estimated 1.7 million persons will be diagnosed with cancer in the USA. Of these, it is expected that 600,000 will die of the disease. A new, non-invasive cancer therapy has been designed by a collaboration of University of Oklahoma researchers. It is hoped that this therapy will eliminate tumors without affecting the healthy cells in the body.

Single walled carbon nanotubes are used to targets specific cancer cells by binding directly to the tumor. The tumor is then heated with near infrared light. This photo thermal therapy does not have the adverse side effects of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, and is most effective against surface or shallow tumors in melanoma, breast, esophageal and bladder cancers.

Daniel E. Resasco and Roger G. Harrison, Jr., professors in the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering, Gallogly College of Engineering, are the creators of the therapy. Harrison is also associated with the Stephenson School of Biomedical Engineering with his expertise being the protein design, purification and production. Resasco brings his experience with nanostructured materials based on single walled carbon nanotubes to the table.

Harrison explains that biological systems have very low levels of absorption of near infrared light, whereas single walled carbon nanotubes absorb near infrared light strongly in very narrow, but tunable wavelength ranges. The selective elimination of tumors is made possible by targeting tumors with single walled carbon nanotubes and the subsequent localized application of near infrared light.

Resasco notes that not many groups around the world are able to manufacture nanotubes that can absorb light in a narrow wavelength range. A unique method of synthesis is used to produce single wall nanotubes with a narrow distribution of carbon atom arrangements and diameters. This causes the selective light absorption in the near infrared spectrum required for the therapy.

The new OU photo thermal therapy uses single walled carbon nanotubes with custom made absorption wavelength injected into the blood stream. There the proteins on the nanotubes selectively bind to blood vessels supplying a tumor. A laser light is applied to the tumor within a day. The laser light heats the nanotubes, which causes the tumor to heat and be eliminated. The therapy has been tested and proven in a laboratory.