The Houston Chronicle reports that clinical trials of gold nanoshells have begun in human patients in an attempt to treat a patient with head and neck cancer. The shells—which are about 120 nanometers in diameter and feature a gold shell over a glass core—are injected into the body intravenously over the course of a day. A small amount—about 1 percent—become embedded in tumors. The rest wash out of the body harmlessly.
The nanoparticles that become lodged in the tumors are then excited by infrared light, which causes the shells to heat up and burn away the tumor without damaging healthy cells nearby.
This trial marks the first time engineered nanomaterials have been tested on humans. I find this research to be truly exciting, and I hope the clinical trials go well as it could have promise for treatment of many kinds of tumors. It is not, however, a cure for cancer, as Congressman John Culberson once called it. Hopefully, though, it will bring us a step closer and improve survivability of some types of cancer.