Biomedical scientist testing nanoparticles as early cancer detection agent

Biomedical scientist Shuming Nie is testing the use of nanoparticles called quantum dots to dramatically improve clinical diagnostic tests for the early detection of cancer. The tiny particles glow and act as markers on cells and genes, giving scientists the ability to rapidly analyze biopsy tissue from cancer patients so that doctors can provide the most effective therapy available.

Nie, a chemist by training, is an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering a joint department operated by the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Emory University and director of cancer nanotechnology at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute.

His research focuses on the field of nanotechnolgy, in which scientists build devices and materials one atom or molecule at a time, creating structures that take on new properties by virtue of their miniature size. The basic building block of nanotechnology is a nanoparticle, and a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Nanoparticles take on special properties because of their small size. For example, if you break a piece of candy into two pieces, each piece will still be sweet, but if you continue to break the candy until you reach the nanometer scale, the smaller pieces will taste completely different and have different properties.

Until recently, nanotechnology was primarily based in electronics, manufacturing, supercomputers and data storage. However Nie predicted years ago in a paper published in Science that the first major breakthroughs in the field will be in biomedical applications, such as early disease detection, imaging and drug delivery.

"Electronics may be the field most likely to derive the greatest economic benefit from nanotechnology," Nie said. "However, much of the benefit is unlikely to occur for another 10 to 20 years, whereas the biomedical applications of nanotechnology

Contact: Larry Bowie
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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