The tiniest nanoparticles for detecting cancer using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have been developed by a chemist at Brown University.
Shouheng Sun describes the magnetic nanoparticles as tiny guided missiles that seek and attach themselves to malignant tumour cells.
Once attached with the tumour cells, the particles emit signals strong enough to be detected by MRI scans.
A research article in the online edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society says that the peptide-coated iron oxide particle is about 8.4 nanometers in overall diameter, some six times smaller than the size of particles currently used in medicine.
"We wanted to make (the nanoparticle) very small, so the body's immune system won't recognize it. That way, you let more particles interact with and attach to the tumour cell," Sun said.
The researchers have already tested the ability of these nanoparticles in locating a brain tumour cell called U87MG in mice.
They have found that the RGD peptide coating binds almost seamlessly to the U87MG tumour cell.
The research team is now planning further animal experiments to determine the particle's ability to bind with other tumour cells, too.