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March 7th, 2010
Cancer treatment has been a poster-child for nanotechnology for almost as long as I've been involved with the field. As far back as in 1999, a brochure on nanotechnology published by the US government described future "synthetic anti-body-like nanoscale drugs or devices that might seek out and destroy malignant cells wherever they might be in the body."
Over the intervening decade, nanotechnology has become a cornerstone of the National Cancer Institute's fight against cancer, and has featured prominently in the US government's support for nanotechnology research and development. And for good reason - nanotechnology holds the promise of treatments that can diagnose cancer earlier in the disease's development than ever before; treat tumors using lower concentrations of chemotherapy agents, and target malignant cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.
Like many of my colleagues, I have used emerging nanotechnology-based cancer treatments as a compelling example of what is possible when we gain mastery over materials at the scale of the atoms and molecules they are made of. So I was somewhat surprised to see the eminent chemist and nano-scientist George Whitesides questioning how much progress we've made in developing nanotechnology-based cancer treatments, in an article published in the Columbia Chronicle.
To get a better sense of where we are on nanotech-enabled approaches to treating cancer, I asked a handful of experts working in the field the following question:
What are some of the more significant science challenges researchers face in developing nanotechnology-based cancer treatments?
The responses were cautious, and clearly cognizant of the hurdles to taking scientific and technological breakthroughs out of the lab and into the market. Yet despite this, there was an over-riding sense of optimism running through them.
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