A company called Kereos is developing a pair of nanotechnologies to identify tumors that measure just 1 mm in diameter, then kill them with a tiny but precise amount of a chemotherapy drug.

The technologies, if approved by the Food and Drug Administration, would not only find cancers in their earliest stages before they can do damage or spread, but also deliver a small amount of a drug targeted directly at tumors, which would cause little or no side effects.

The technologies are in the early stages of development. The diagnostic tool will enter human trials in 2005, and the therapeutic tool should follow six months behind, according to company officials.

“What’s really neat about this pair is they both track the same biomarker,” said Al Beardsley, president and CEO of Kereos in St. Louis. “We’re using it as a signpost to say, ‘Hey there’s a tumor over there.’ And then as a therapeutic target.”

The biomarker they’re using is a group of four proteins that signal that a tumor needs to recruit blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis, Beardsley said. A biomarker is an indicator of a biological process or event, such as aging, poisoning or, in this case, blood vessel growth. The diagnostic tool attaches a 250-nanometer oil droplet carrying gadolinium, which glows under MRI, to the proteins.

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