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What are the most promising new weapons in the war on cancer?


Even More Weapons in the War on Cancer
Photomicrographs show how nanotubes can selectively locate and destroy HER2 breast cancer tumors. Tumor cells on the left were treated only with antibodies and then irradiated, while those on the right were treated with a complex of antibodies and nanotubes and then irradiated. Red areas show where cells have been killed.
Photomicrographs show how nanotubes can selectively locate and destroy HER2 breast cancer tumors. Tumor cells on the left were treated only with antibodies and then irradiated, while those on the right were treated with a complex of antibodies and nanotubes and then irradiated. Red areas show where cells have been killed.
National Institute of Standards and Technology

We just mentioned that using proteins to stop angiogenesis isn't particularly new in the treatment of cancer. What is new, though, is an idea coming from collaboration between MIT's Krystyn Van Vliet and Tufts University School of Medicine's Ira Herman. The two are looking at the link between pericytes and our health. Perciytes are the cells that surround our blood vessels and contract. Van Vliet and Herman have shown that this contraction might actually trigger angiogenesis. If that's the case, controlling the contraction could promote or inhibit angiogenesis [source: Trafton].

So far, we've discussed treatments that seem measured and strategic. But what if we could just go in, blow up the cancer and be done with it? Although in laboratory cultures only, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has done just that. Researchers took a two-front approach to the bomb technique and combined an antibody with a nanotube. Essentially, the nanotube goes in and blows up tumor cells, while the antibody gets to work messing up a protein that works on the side of the tumors. Time will tell whether these two warriors can go to battle outside of a cell culture and work in mice [source: Baker].

Blowing up cancer and every new discovery in this fight helps. As we move forward, we can hope for an ultimate retreat of cancer. That said, more than any new treatment, perhaps the best tactics continue to be prevention and early diagnosis, the last advancements we'll discuss here. Prevention and early diagnosis are keys to survival. We're already familiar with such strategies as mammograms and colonoscopies, but what if we could start detection even earlier? We can. In fact, the team at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA is using nanodiagnostics to test newborns for the potential to develop certain illnesses later in life, including cancer. They do this by taking a tissue or blood sample from the newborn, and then take nanosize pieces of the baby's DNA and flow it over 900,000 genetic sequences already linked to diseases to see if there is a match. Got a match? Then, you have good reason to take certain preventive measures in that baby's life [source: Alexander].


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