Star Wars Technology to Destroy Cancer Cells Using Nanobubbles Generated By Pulsed Laser

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
  • Cancer cells that remain in the body after the surgical removal of primary cancer can cause recurrence or spread of cancer to other body parts
  • A newer technology selectively targets cancer cells. It uses gold particles that are coated with antibodies and form clusters within cancer cells
  • Short laser pulse causes the clusters to form nanobubbles which burst, thereby destroying the cancer cells without affecting the normal cells
  • The new therapy could replace the use of systemic chemotherapy or radiation therapy post-cancer surgery
Imagine a star war where a laser beam selectively targets the enemy planet and destroys it with precision. A similar approach is being evaluated by researchers to selectively destroy cancer cells that remain in the body following surgery. The research that was funded by the NIH was published by a group of scientists in the Nature Nanotechnology.
Nanobubbles Generated by Pulsed Laser Identify & Destroy Cancer Cells
Star Wars Technology to Destroy Cancer Cells Using Nanobubbles Generated By Pulsed Laser

Cancer is no longer considered as a condition that spells sure death. However, most of those who have conquered the disease had done so when the cancer was diagnosed in its initial stages. Most localized cancers are surgically removed. Some cancer cells may, however, escape the surgery and remain in the body. These have the potential to form new cancer either at the same site or another site in the body, referred to as metastasis. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy administered after the surgery to sweep off any residual cancer cells are associated with unpleasant side effects since they do not selectively target cancer cells and may harm normal cells as well.

‘Pulsed laser can selectively target cancer cells containing clusters of gold particles, thereby destroying them.’
Newer technology is being investigated to selectively target and kill the remaining cancer cells following surgery, referred to as a microscopic residual disease, with precision. Researchers Dmitri Lapotko and team used gold particles tagged with antibodies to guide the gold particles into the cancer cells. Once inside the cell, they were subjected to a short laser pulse, which caused them to vaporize the water in the cell and produce a tiny bubble called a plasmonic nanobubble. The bubble then burst and destroyed the cancer cell from inside.

The researchers tried out the new technology in mice with cancerous tumors. Gold particles coated with antibodies were injected into the mice and the cancer was surgically removed. Short laser pulse was administered following the removal, which caused the residual cancer cells to produce a plasmonic nanobubble. The bubble burst inside the cancer cell, thereby destroying it.

Mice who received the treatment did not show any recurrence of cancer for a period of two months. On the other hand, 80% of mice who did not receive the treatment died within 10 days of the surgery.

The antibodies on the gold particles ensured that the gold particles entered only cancer cells. The low-energy short laser pulses ensured that surrounding tissues were not damaged. This approach can be very useful in regions like the brain where the loss of every cell could have grave consequences. This new technique would undoubtedly be a boon to cancer patients. However, more studies are necessary before it can be used in medical practice.

  1. Nanobubbles Generated by Pulsed Laser Identify & Destroy Cancer Cells - (
  2. Lukianova-Hleb EY, Kim Y, Belatsarkouski I, Gillenwater AM, O'Neill BE, Lapotko DO. Intraoperative diagnostics and elimination of residual microtumours with plasmonic nanobubbles. Nature Nanotechnology 11, 525-532 (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.343.
  3. Targeted Cancer Therapies - (
Source: Medindia

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