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​Nanotech pits copper against cancer

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A team of researchers have made an accidental discovery at the University of Texas at Arlington, one which could permanently change the treatment of cancer.

Professor Wei Chen, a physicist and co-director of the Centre for Security Advances via Applied Nonotechnology, made his discovery while in the process of developing a light-emitting nanoparticle for detecting radiation for security purposes.

He found that a copper-cysteamine complex, which was created by him in a laboratory, would emit a toxic by-product when exposed to X-rays. 

This toxin is called Singlet Oxygen, and it is naturally produced through photosynthesis in the leaves of plants.

Singlet oxygen is utilised in Photodynamic Therapy, or Photochemotherapy.

Photodynamic Therapy is a treatment for cancer, in which singlet oxygen kills malignant cells by becoming toxic when exposed to light.

Professor Chen found that his nanoparticles significantly slowed tumour growth when combined with X-ray exposure, in experiments conducted on breast and prostate cancer cells.

The new nanoparticle, now dubbed Cu-Cy, has low toxicity to healthy cells.

Chen has said that the findings are promising, and is heading a federally funded cancer research program.

“This new idea is simpler and better than previous photodynamic therapy methods,” he said.

“You don’t need as many steps.

“This material alone can do the job.”

Chen’s paper is expected to appear in the August edition of the Journal of Biomedical Nanotechnology.

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