in the Twenty-First Century
Cancer, in its many forms, is a devastating disease that affects us all. Cancer
accounted for 13% of all deaths in 2008, or 7 million people worldwide (IARC –
International Agency for Research on Cancer: World Cancer Report) . Current detection methods are
improving, but early detection poses many challenges. Current treatments vary
from surgery to chemo- and radiotherapies. Each treatment option bears its own
unique risks. But what if we could detect cancer much sooner and treat cancers
without invasive surgeries or chemical treatments that do harm to healthy and
unhealthy cells alike? And what if the technology to achieve both of these goals
was the same – would it be worth exploring?
Researchers all over the world agree and so the race is on to develop technologies
that achieve this. It requires the discovery of a way to locate small amounts of
cancer cells, bind to them in some way, and kill them without harming
surrounding healthy tissue.
Today we will begin to explore how nanotechnology has opened the door to
innovative solutions for these momentous challenges including cancer detection
One exciting prospect in the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer is the use of
specially coated gold nanoshells to selectively bind to cancer cells. Once bound,
metallic nanoparticles such as these can be made to undergo surface plasmon
resonance (SPR), a phenomenon that converts electromagnetic radiation to heat
energy. Some day soon, you may be the person to implement this strategy to
selectivity “cook” cancer cells, leaving nearby cells healthy, unaffected, and
unharmed. If such a technique can be developed (and early studies are hopeful) we
may soon see a day when cancers can be easily detected and removed through a
simple outpatient procedure. So that in the future, our current methods of cancer
treatment might even be viewed in the same light as the necessity driven barbaric
limb amputations before the discovery and use of anesthesia. Nanoshells are simply
one thrilling example of how the nanosciences may transform medicine and health
issues in the decades to come.
Inquiry: Let’s begin with a little challenge!!!!
1. Suppose we have three types of particles (cells) in a mixture (black, red, and
white) and we need to design a particle that will attach itself to only one of
them (the black one) and leave the other two alone. What would be
important to know?
2. Draw & label a hypothetical particle (cell) that you think will selectively bind
to the black particles only.
Your Task: Create a particle that binds to the cancer only!!!
Once bound to the correct cell, your particles need special properties that allow
them to be detected and to destroy the cell they have selectively bound to.
Researchers have worked globally to design a particle with all these
characteristics. One such design showing a great deal of potential is the gold
nanoshell. Your task is to build models of these gold nanoshells and then to test
their ability to selectively bind to cancer cells. All the materials required to build
your gold nanoshell models are in the kit provided.
Build five (5) gold nanoshells according to the specifications of the video at
Test your nanoshell’s ability to bind to cancer by conducting a “Clinical
Trial.” The Clinical Trial is a model of the cancerous region of the body.
Teams will add their nanoshells to the model and see if their particles are
successful at binding to cancer cells.
A successful trial is arbitrarily defined as: a trial in which three (3) or more
nanoshells successful bind to cancer cells and where zero nanoshells bind to
non-cancerous or healthy cells. The first team to conduct a successful
clinical trial will earn lots of future research funds and possibly even a Nobel
Prize in Medicine/Chemistry (take your pick).
Nanoshell Construction Questions:
The “In Depth” section of the web page, listed above, gives a great description of
the nanoshell construction and will help you answer the following questions.
1. What are a couple of good reasons gold is used in the construction of
2. What makes the gold nanoshell better than the gold nanoparticles?
3. When we start “immunotargeting” the gold nanoshell, what does poly(ethylene
glycol) or PEG do for the nanoshell? Why is it needed?
4. Why was it important to attach the right anti-epidermal growth factor
receptor, or anti-EGFR, to our nanoshell?
5. Cancer imaging has always been a challenge, especially in the early stages of
cancer. How can nanoshells help identify cancer in its earliest stages?
6. Explain the following terms: (don’t be afraid to use the referenced webpage)
Surface Plasmon Resonance: