New gold nanotubes can kill cancer cells

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, UK, have developed a new gold nanotube that can heat and kill cancer cells.

More than 2,600 people are diagnosed in the UK each year with mesothelioma, a malignant form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Although the substance is illegal in the UK, the country has the world’s highest levels of mesothelioma due to its use of asbestos in the post-war years.

In a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the University of Leeds, researchers have developed a form of gold nanotubes whose physical properties are ‘tuneable’ – in other words, the team can tailor the wall thickness, microstructure, composition, and ability to absorb particular wavelengths of light.

Dr Arsalan Azad from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge, said: “Mesothelioma is one of the ‘hard-to-treat’ cancers, and the best we can offer people with existing treatments is a few months of extra survival. There’s an important unmet need for new, effective treatments.”

The researchers inserted the nanotubes into mesothelioma cells and discovered that they were absorbed by the cells, residing close to the nucleus. When the team targeted the cells with a laser, the nanotubes absorbed the light and heated up, killing the mesothelioma cell.

The nanotubes are produced in a two-step process. First, solid silver nanorods are created of the desired diameter. Gold is then deposited from the solution onto the surface of the silver. As the gold builds-up at the surface, the silver dissolves from the inside to leave a hollow nanotube.

Professor Stephen Evans from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds said: “Having control over the size and shape of the nanotubes allows us to tune them to absorb light where the tissue is transparent and will allow them to be used for both the imaging and treatment of cancers. The next stage will be to load these nanotubes with medicines for enhanced therapies.”

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