"After making the nano test tubes, we saw the potential for them to be used for drug delivery vehicles, but because they are open at one end it would be like trying to ship wine in a bottle without a cork," said University of Florida chemistry professor Charles Martin. "You have to cork it, which is what we have accomplished."
Martin is one of six University of Florida chemistry faculty members and graduate students who co-authored a paper about the research that appeared last month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
While chemotherapy works against many cancers, it can cause severe side effects such as nausea, temporary hair loss and blood disease. To make the chemo hit only the cancerous cells, Martin and scientists elsewhere have spent recent years experimenting with drug-carrying nanotubes or nanoparticles.
"Nano" stems from nanotechnology, the fast-growing science of making objects or devices that approach molecular dimensions. One nanometer equals one-billionth of a meter.
The approach makes sense for attacking diseased cells while bypassing healthy ones, but it also poses challenges. For one thing, the nanotubes must recognize their target, a problem scientists are attacking by tweaking their chemistry to make it respond to the unique chemistry of cancer cells. The tubes also must be biologically benign. Martin says a method for making nanotubes he pioneered, template synthesis, allows manufacturers to use biodegradable material, such as the polylactides that compose biodegradable sutures.