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Tiny Gold Particles Destroy Tumors with Heat

Nanorod Photo:  MIT

Photo: MIT

Graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed tiny gold nanoparticles that can hone in on tumors and kill them when heated with laser-directed light.

The rod-shaped gold particles travel through the blood stream and are snared in the small blood vessels in the tumor.  Near-infrared light passes harmlessly through normal tissues but heats the gold rods, and  heat energy destroys tumor cells.

Mice treated with the gold nanorods and laser infrared light had tumors disappear within 15 days and not recur.

In designing the particles, scientists took advantage of tiny pores in blood vessels near tumors that allow the particles to enter cancer tissue.  Those not accumulating in tumors are cleared away by the liver and spleen within the next three days.

In addition to directly destroying cancerous tumors, heating them to lower temperatures weakens cancer cells and makes them more susceptible to chemotherapy.  The rods can also be used to target tumors during imaging or kill cancer cells left behind at the margins of surgery.

Still experimental, the gold rods will need to be tested in humans before they are available for treatment.

MIT graduate student Geoffrey von Maltzahn developed the tumor-homing particles with Sangeeta Bhatia, professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.  They have published papers describing their work in the May 1, 2009 issue of Cancer Research and in an early view communication to Advanced Materials on April 20, 2009.

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