Instead of starting a cancer patient on a drug and then waiting weeks to see if it works, scientists at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have come up with an innovative way to speed up the news.
The team has created cubic electronic nanosensors coated with a substance that lets them pass through the intestinal walls and into the bloodstream. There, they travel to the site of sickness. Because the sensors’ geometry matches the tumor’s receptors, the sensors bind to the tumor. Then they start sending back signals that communicate the presence of drugs and the tumor’s state of health.
The sensors will be electrically charged by an electromagnetic or ultrasound system outside the patient’s body. The same system would be used to collect the sensors’ data.
The researchers are working to shrink the sensors to about 10 millionths of a meter, about the size of a red blood cell. The task shouldn’t be daunting, as electronic glucose sensors of that size have already been tested.
Nano-scale biological sensors are a growing research field and are already entering clinical practice. The challenge that has not been solved, or even widely discussed, is how to keep these microscopic electronic granules from becoming part of the waste stream that’s flowing into our oceans and groundwater, ultimately ingested by sea life and those of us who don’t need them.