Magnetic nanoparticles are providing exciting new possibilities for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Pictured here, each a thousandth of a hair’s breadth across, they are surrounded by fields of magnetic force. When coated with antibodies [special proteins designed to bind cancer cell proteins] they can be delivered to patient blood samples. An external magnetic field is then applied to the sample, trapping the particles inside the blood cells. If cancer is present, the bound antibodies harbour molecular evidence that can be traced when the particles are recovered from the sample. When it comes to treatment, coated particles can be used to track down free-floating cancer cells, effectively tagging them for disposal. This is extremely useful since tumour cells are very clever at evading the body’s natural immune response. Within the next few decades nanotechnology will play a significant role in medicine.
Written by Brona McVittie
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