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Nanotube sensors can detect cancer agents in living cells


Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed carbon nanotubes into sensors that can be placed in living cells, healthy or malignant, and actually detect several different classes of molecules that damage DNA. The sensors, made of carbon nanotubes wrapped in DNA, can detect chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin as well as environmental toxins and free radicals that damage DNA. Nanotube sensors could be used to monitor chemotherapy patients to ensure the drugs are effectively battling tumors. Many chemotherapy drugs are very powerful DNA disruptors and can cause serious side effects, so it is important to make sure that the drugs are reaching their intended targets.


Using the sensors, researchers can monitor living cells over an extended period of time. The sensor can pinpoint the exact location of molecules inside cells, and for one agent, hydrogen peroxide, it can detect a single molecule. The new technology takes advantage of the fact that carbon nanotubes fluoresce in near-infrared light. Human tissue does not, which makes it easier to see the nanotubes light up. Because they are coated in DNA, these nanotube sensors are safe for injection in living cells.




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