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Biotech Science

Carbon Nanotubes Can Exist Safely Inside the Body, Help Treat Cancer 86

iandoh writes "A team of scientists at Stanford University has tracked the movement of carbon nanotubes through the digestive systems of mice. They've determined that the nanotubes do not exhibit any toxicity in the mice, and are safely expelled after delivering their payload. As a result, the study paves the way toward future applications of nanotubes in the treatment of illnesses. Previous research by the same team demonstrated that nanotubes can be used to fight cancer. The nanotubes do this in two ways. One method involves shining laser light on the nanotubes, which generates heat to destroy cancer cells. Another method involves attaching medicine to the nanotubes, which are able to accurately 'find' cancerous cells without impacting healthy cells."
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Carbon Nanotubes Can Exist Safely Inside the Body, Help Treat Cancer

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  • Faster than a pumping heart...stronger than graphite capable of delivering it's payload then leaving's CARBON NANO-TUBE MAN! With the power to...reflect lasers! and deliver medicine!
    • Basically, he is a ripp-off of superman. I mean, superman can reflect lasers. And superman can also deliver medicine.

      The good part is that CARBON NANO-TUBE MAN can probably withstand krypton. And paralysis for that matter.
  • by glittalogik ( 837604 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @01:33AM (#22258044)
    Finally, something useful getting delivered via the 'tubes!
    • Do not underestimate the power of the 'tubes!
    • They've *definitely* been delivering hyperbole amongst billions of carbon-based lifeforms for over a decade!
  • Dr. Weir (Score:2, Funny)

    by soulfury ( 1229120 )
    Since carbon nanotubes don't exhibit any toxicity, I can imagine that future nanites would be made out of this material.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ....they come from a series of tubes!
  • Commie Plot (Score:5, Funny)

    by repapetilto ( 1219852 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @01:43AM (#22258104)

    Though they may sound less than gorgeous visually, the feathery nanotubes turned in a beautiful performance in practical terms, Dai said. The coating of PEG made the nanotubes highly water soluble, which helped them to stay in the blood instead of being absorbed.
    I'd prefer to keep my precious bodily fluids pure and unsapped thank you very much.
    • Before you mod the parent down, watch Dr. Strangelove.


    • by Zencyde ( 850968 )
      You, sir, have made my night. : ) Thank you very much for a wonderful post. If I had mod points you would get one.
    • Though they may sound less than gorgeous visually

      Shouldn't it be, "look less than gorgeous visually," or "sound less than gorgeous aurally?"

      How does something sound visually? Is he on drugs? And if so, why isn't he sharing?

  • Excellent. (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Queue whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag in 3... 2... 1...
  • So if one day... (Score:2, Interesting)

    We've all got nanotubes inside us doing various medical things. Will this bring a new age of IR lasers? What about taking pictures with night vision turned on? Anyone would be able to see all your diseased areas
    • In your last dying breathe you can claim to never have had your diseased heart's photo taken. That way you can take your privacy to the grave.
      • well I didn't mean it as a criticism of the technology, more of a sci-fi what if but it didn't take apparently
  • oh really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @01:52AM (#22258148)
    Another paper out this week [] seems to directly contradict that headline.

    What Dai (the Stanford professor) is actually claiming [] is that specially functionalized nanotubes gather at the back end of the digestive tract, and seem to dissapear. Pure nanotubes cause all sorts of problems. There's an important distinction there, but this is still good news for nanotube (and cancer) research.
    • nanotubes cause all sorts of problems.

      yes, they can puncture cell membranes for one, they're like little molecular needles. That property likely makes them useful in killing bacteria. fullerene, a related molecule in the shape of a soccer ball more of less has shown some toxicity at ppm levels as well. from the attached PDF, it seems that single-walled carbon nanotubes are actually more toxic than multiwalled nanotubes or nanoparticles of SiO2 [quartz] these cells are upregulating certain genes involved

    • I am just a layman, but I read the article in the first link to literally mean "Good news! The mice are pooping out the tubes instead of dying from them!"

      So that's, um, good news...I guess? Thanks for sorting through all that mouse shit for us, Dai! Er, cancer doesn't stand a chance?

    • Haven't we experienced problems with small fibers in the body before causing all kinds of long-term problems (asbestos)? A lack of toxicity is one small step, but is there any data on long-term exposure?
    • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @09:55AM (#22260160) Homepage
      The gut is rather an easy situation :

      Normally, things go through the gut from one end (mouth) to the other (toilet seet) without much hassle, unless there's either a specific receptor or transporter for it (sugar), or it's chemical properties facilitates cross the gut wall (mainly : water can go around cell and hyrdophobic substance (fat) can go through the cell walls).

      Nano tube aren't by definition neither water nor small fatty molecule, and as they're synthetic, the probability that some receptor will recognize and bind them is rather low.
      Thus TFA seems plausible. But as you point out, not everyone agrees with those results. More research might be needed.

      With lung, the situation is different :
      Above a given threshold size (sorry, I did have to memorise it exactly for my medical studies but have since then forgotten), the respiratory tract function as some kind of "filter" and is able to stop them and reject them either back outside (by coughing) or to the gut (by swalloing), thank to the ciliated cells on the tract walls and associated mucus movement (which acts as some minature conveyor belt). (Except in smokers where the ciliated cells are paralyzed).

      Under some threshold, smaller enough particles may manage to reach the end of the tract to the alveolar sacs.
      Normally, specialised dust cells (some lung-specific kind of marcophage) will eat and digest them to destroy them.
      Now the problems with nano tube is that they're not your usual microparticles : they're engineered to be indestructible, so the macrophage will have a hard time trying to destroy them.

      This is what happens with asbestos, for exemple. Asbestos reaches the alveolar sas. Macrophage "eat it" but fail to digest it (asbestos fiber were made to be used as fire-resistant). Macrophage end up over-eating and exploding. Which releases the asbestos back and causes inflammation (both because the asbestos it self is irritant, and because of the macrophage breakage) in the lungs (asbestosis).

      That's something we need to closely test with nanotube :
      - are the size of most common nanotube construct under the threshold to reach the alveolar sacs ? (or will we, one day, mostly use nano technology to build huge nanobot - huge on the scale of dust particle, of course - that won't be able to reach the end of the respiratory tract).
      - do animal studies show that dust cell somewhat manage to get rid of the tubes ? or do the tube accumulate and cause inflammation just like
  • Heat is versatile (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bornwaysouth ( 1138751 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @01:58AM (#22258164) Homepage
    The technology does seem useful. At present, all they are doing is cooking the cells. But if you can coat a nanotube with various compounds, you can coat it with toxins tied by a heat labile bond. Cook to release, and poison the cancer cell.
  • Type of nanotubes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by H0D_G ( 894033 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @02:22AM (#22258272)
    From TFA, it appears these are single wall nanotubes, which are a lot more expensive and difficult to produce than multiple wall nanotubes. i'd be interested to see if these could pass through the mouse, as they are more reactive than the single walled variety
    • by K8Fan ( 37875 )
      They are feeding nanotubes to mice to measure toxicity. There's another possible explanation [].
    • by Plazmid ( 1132467 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @03:32AM (#22258548)
      SINGLE WALL nanotubes do no harm? That is really surprised me because single wall nanotubes are a lot thinner than multiwall and most of the worries have been about them acting like tiny katanas and slicing up cell membranes. A while back someone made an antiseptic coating using carbon nanotube set up like a tiny sharp as hell bed of nails. Another worry was that biomolecules, DNA, RNA, proteins, etc might wrap around single wall nanotubes and gum up cellular machinery. In fact someone used this property to make a nifty little mercury sensor. See more here [] Of course the nanotubes were coated with polyethylene glycol to prevent stuff like this from happening, so nanotubes might still be toxic uncoated. There definitely needs to be another study done on nanotube toxicity to confirm the results.
  • But can it find my keys without destroying the surrounding environment and then deliver the payload back to me?
  • Does that mean the internets will go faster?
  • I mean, really?
  • There are a lot of methods for targeting cancer cells (basically, targeted poison delivery systems). The problem is, there are few superficial features of cancers cells which on a molecular level different from normal cells. There will always be some toxicity to the healthy cells because it is very hard to target cancer cells selectively.
    • by jotok ( 728554 )
      Wasn't there research about 10 years ago involving targeting and inducing cancer cells to undergo apoptosis?
  • The real problem (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The real problem with nanotubes is that they have the ability to penetrate the cell wall and act as artificial channels. This is bad, especially, because the tubes naturally will pump charged ions in'n'out of the cell, which lead to all sorts of problems.
  • Hongjie Dai, co-author of the study, had this to say about the study:

    "One of the longstanding problems in medicine is how to cure cancer without harming normal body tissue."

    I do not have a medical background, but what I know about cancer is that its causes are often rooted in any combination of lifetime exposure to carcinogens, dietary decisions, family history--you name it. In other words, people get cancer for reasons that can't possibly be addressed by running small tubes through their bodies.


    • The distinction you're making is confusing. I guess name a disease/illness/whatever that you think has been cured and that would help.
      • It's not a very confusing distinction if you think about it. Saying that you've "cured" a disease implies that you've actually created something that can restore a patient to full health, or at the very least created some kind of predicate by which infection cannot even possibly occur. Smallpox, for example, was effectively cured by way of a preemptive, widely-used vaccine. There is no evidence in the article that the nanotubes procedure does either of these things.

        A cancer is by definition a cellular aberr
        • by Wordplay ( 54438 )
          Every cancer is personal, since it's a genetic aberration. You might cure the one you've got. That doesn't mean you might not get another. If you do, though, it won't be the same one.

          Now, whether or not it's a 100% effective cure (i.e., always eradicates every cancerous cell of the current batch) is a different question. If you're hung up on that distinction, all I can say is that a total remission is as close to a cure as you ever get. That's a cure with a "but we may be wrong" rider attached.
        • First off, cancer is a specific type of "cellular aberration", you know the whole A is a type of B but not all instances of B are A type of thing. Basically what you're talking about is prevention of the illness (vaccines)rather then either a treatment or a cure. My definitions: A cure is a type of treatment something that makes a disease go away( if you get it again thats irrelevant)while a treatment is something that(at least)makes you feel better but doesn't necessarily deal with the fundamental problem.
    • I think most relapses of cancer are due to it never being completly removed the first time, but I'm not a doctor. I just read doctor realted things on the internet like everyone else here.

      Like the other response to your post, I'm not sure If I agree with your terminology. Prevention is not the same as a cure. As the following statement would be incorrect usage of the word cure: I cured malaria by living in Antarctica.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You're confusing a vaccine and a cure, as well as universal and specific cures. You seem to find cure and vaccine synonymous, which they are not. A vaccine will prevent the formation of a disease state and a cure will... cure it. A cure is not effective until the disease state is reached. And in both cases medical technology generally does not have a one-off of either of them. An easy example would be the flu vaccine. It only contains the top percentage of the previous year's bugs (i.e. the most prevalent l
      • I kind of resent AC's who refuse to actually read parent posts, just so they can chime in with their 2 cents. Thank you for the added insight, but the plain words of my post reveal that I don't "seem to find" a cure or a vaccine synonymous at all. They are similar only in the sense that they accomplish the same goal through different means. The first part of my post was explicitly dedicated to making that distinction, while still maintaining that a "cure" in the medical sense is something that brings a pati
    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )
      I think it's you that's confused on terminology.

      A cure is remedial treatment. Usually, it's used to mean a successful remedial treatment, or a means of restoring to health.

      It's not necessary that a cure be able to prevent a disease, only that it be able to remove the disease. As such, once you have cancer, if this treatment can effectively remove it, it is a cure.

      If you distinguish "treatment" and "cure" as per common usage, the reason current treatments are not cures is that they are not always effective,
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Friday February 01, 2008 @03:28AM (#22258530)
    Wouldn't they be more useful if they actually killed the mice? I hate messing with the traps.
  • Both of the applications mentioned are old, respected and not very easy to implement. I've known people who've worked on various versions of them--attaching molecules that are going to be absorbed by cancerous cells to dyes or radioactive payloads, then hoping they selectively destroy the bad cells. The idea's gone far enough that companies get funding, but obviously the approach hasn't produced a silver bullet. I don't see any reason that using carbon nanotubes will make things easier than using traditi
  • after one movie (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nyall ( 646782 )
    So is iamlegend the new replacement for whatcouldpossiblygowrong ?
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      I'm pondering how the typo "inthereanythingtheycantdo" gets in. You know, I'm starting to think maybe this keyword thing is broken.

      For a while, I've been getting this sense of unease. The keyword "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" seemed inappropriate at first until I realized what could possibly go wrong. After all, a genetically modified mosquito which played too much Grand Theft Auto could upload its DNA into Defense computers and start World War III. We really need to consider the ammunition this would give a

  • They can't fail the mayor, not ever....
  • "Carbon Nanotubes Can Exist Safely Inside the Body, Help Treat Cancer"

    Surely you mean "Carbon Nanotubes Can Exist Safely Inside the Body AND Help Treat Cancer"?

    Unless, "help treat cancer" is a seperate sentence in the form of a request (well, if there's anything I can do, I'll help..) /pedant
    • "Carbon Nanotubes Can Exist Safely Inside the Body, Help Treat Cancer"

      Surely you mean "Carbon Nanotubes Can Exist Safely Inside the Body AND Help Treat Cancer"?

      Unless, "help treat cancer" is a seperate sentence in the form of a request (well, if there's anything I can do, I'll help..) /pedant
      This has been standard form for newspaper headlines for as long as I can remember.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bryansix ( 761547 )

        This has been standard form for newspaper headlines for as long as I can remember.
        Exactly. It's used to save space.
  • We are the Borg (c).
    Resistance is futile.

    'Nuff said
  • Even if they don't do any damage to the body, is there any chance of them doing damage to the environment once they are 'expelled'?
  • Really. These tests may indicate OK-ness, but this is such a novel thing to do to a body, I can't see how it will be harmless... I'm sure more studies on in the pipeline, but I wouldn't get all gleeful.


    • I can't see how it will be harmless...

      Well, then we'll just update the entry to "mostly harmless." Problem solved.
  • So they progress enough to use nanotubes in humans for drug delivery and the nanotubes are excreted from the digestive system.

    When the waste is processed in the municipal sewage facility, the nanotubes aren't captured in the purification process and pass on to the ecosystem as effluent.

    Will these nanotubes have the robustness to survive in the wild? Will they get clogged in fish gills causing them to suffocate?

    What other mayhem may we be missing by not looking at the whole life cycle of nanoparticles in suc

IN MY OPINION anyone interested in improving himself should not rule out becoming pure energy. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.