It’s a space-opera scene we know by heart: The hero’s tiny craft faces off against the vast enemy ship. Now scale down the set a billion times or so, and replace Luke Skywalker’s X-wing and the Death Star with a clump of drug-bearing molecules and a misshapen cancer cell.
This scenario — from a National Cancer Institute video — is just one possibility offered by the burgeoning field of cancer nanotechnology, where miniscule molecules are designed with literally atomic precision to combat a disease that kills half a million Americans every year.
“It’s 21st-century medicine,” said Vicki Colvin of Rice University’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. “It sits at the intersection of some of the greatest achievements in many different areas of science, from material science to cell biology to physics and advances in imaging.”
Indeed, the National Cancer Institute, which recently announced two waves of funding for nanotech training and research, sees nanotechnology as vital to its stated goal of “eliminating suffering and death from cancer by 2015.”
By Brandon Keim