Cancer specialists meeting in Paris, France this week announced they may be close to human trials using nanotechnology to treat cancer. It's a big word for very, very little things. Right here in Southern Nevada, UNLV is on the cutting edge of this unique science.
It's hard to imagine that something so tiny could be so useful, in so many ways. But the nano-particle is proving to be just that -- even though it's 100,000 times smaller than the width of a strand of hair.
Graduate students in electrical engineering at UNLV have entered the global race to find ways to take advantage of this microscopic universe. Professor B.J. Das said, "It's going to affect every field in our society. They call it, it's going to be the second industrial revolution."
Complex devices for manipulating nano-particles are already in use at UNLV. The bar, however, is being raised with the construction of a building that will house a new laboratory and the most sophisticated nano-research equipment available.
Dr. Das says nanotechnology is already poised to make computer chips far more powerful. On the medical front, the possibilities seem endless -- including more effective treatments for cancer. "The nice thing is, the nano-particles are so small, that they can penetrate inside a cell. They can penetrate to the cell wall," Dr. B.J. Das said.
In the nano-world, researchers believe that antibodies traveling inside blood vessels can be made to accurately target and destroy tumors. This is just one of the many possible medical applications for nanotechnology.
Dr. Das said, "If you can selectively go and kill all the cancer cells without effecting the rest of the body, that's what ideally we want, and that's what nanotechnology is going to let us do."
According to the Whitaker Foundation, which helps fund nano-research, medical applications may someday include boosting the immune system, tissue engineering, cellular imaging, and detecting vascular disease. Bio-medical manufacturing will also benefit.
For example, Dr. Das and his colleagues are looking for ways to improve coatings for pacemakers. Dr. Das continued, "Often, the body rejects them or they get corroded. So, using nano-particles and nanotechnology, we're trying to improve the coatings we can put on them."
UNLV aspires to be classified as a research-one university. With that goal in mind, Mark Rudin, who oversees research services, says UNLV intends to play a key role in developing future applications for nanotechnology.
Rudin said, "With the sophistication of the equipment we have in the laboratory, and the prospects of a new state of the art facility in the science and engineering building, I think we can take our research portfolio in nanotechnology to the next level."
Federal funding for this research at UNLV comes from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
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