Carbon nanotubes can act as sensors for up to a year when implanted under the skin or injected into the bloodstream for short-term monitoring, according to new research published at Nature Nanotechnology.
The sensors take advantage of carbon nanotubes' natural fluorescence, which brightens or dims when coupled to a molecule that binds to a specific target. For this study, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology focused on nitric oxide which is produced during inflammation and has a role in cancer that's not well understood.
The sensors injected into the bloodstream have been shown in a study of mice to flow through the lungs and heart without causing any damage and collect in the liver where they can be used to detect nitric oxide.
The long-term sensors have been shown to remain functional for 400 days, though researchers believe that could be longer. These sensors could be used to monitor cancer or other inflammatory diseases, or to detect immune reactions in patients with artificial hips or other implanted devices, according to an announcement.
The nanotubes could also be adapted to detect other molecules, including glucose, freeing diabetics from the need to take blood samples. That's the direction the study's lead author, Nicole Iverson, is taking the research next. Researchers are working toward a closed-loop monitoring system that offers real-time glucose monitoring, connected to an insulin pump that would deliver insulin when needed, with no finger pricking or insulin injections by the patient.
Nanotechnology is taking some interesting turns in healthcare. Nano-sized robots that detect bacteria and viruses might one day soon eliminate disease before it happens, Shree Singh, M.D., the director of the Center for NanoBiotechnology Research at Alabama State University recently told a NanoBio Summit audience.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Belgian university KU Leuven have developed a selective portal within cells for delivering targeted therapies and MIT researchers have developed a "stealth" drug delivery system using nanoparticles to attack a type of breast cancer that is highly resistant to current therapies.