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July 1st, 2009
Chad Mirkin has, by all accounts, developed a masterly ability to think small—extraordinarily small. Nanoscience, the 6-foot, 4-inch Northwestern University chemist's domain, is all about teensy particles on the scale of atoms and molecules. Yet his work has gargantuan implications. Someday neurosurgeons, after cutting out as much of a tumor as possible, may bathe patients' brains with mutation-seeking nanoparticles—crafted in Mirkin's lab—that home in on any remaining cancer cells. Other Mirkin innovations could help diagnose and treat Alzheimer's and will soon be wielded against heart disease and prostate cancer.
What is "game changing" about the work, says Mirkin, is that nanotechnology picks up disease markers that fly way below the radar of traditional diagnostics. For example, Mirkin helped develop a nano-based test that can spot prostate cancer recurrence "years earlier," he says, than the so-called PSA test, the current standard used after prostate surgery. The test could also measure the impact of experimental drugs.
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