Cancer cells can be destroyed from within, by injecting them with nanotubes and then zapping the tubes with radio-frequency waves. Steven Curley at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and his colleagues have taken the first step in proving the technique by injecting carbon nanotubes into liver tumour cells in rabbits, then heating up the carbon with radio waves to kill the cancerous cells. Similar work has been done in cultured cells, but this is the first time that the technique has been used in tumours in live animals.
Researchers are keen to find a form of radiotherapy that is more selective than those currently used on in cancer treatment, as the high-energy radiation also kills off some innocent cells, causing hair loss and other more serious symptoms. One way to do this is to find a material that reacts to a frequency of radiation that leaves the rest of the body alone. If this material is embedded in cancerous cells, then only the cancerous cells would be targeted. Carbon nanotubes have been used before because, unusually, they can absorb near-infrared radiation, which penetrates human tissue without causing damage.