One of the main challenges with traditional chemotherapy is that it is broad acting so it not only attacks the cancer cells but also the normal cells, often causing considerable side effects for patients.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created “longboats” by attaching a modified version of potent cancer drug cisplatin and folic acid to carbon nanotubes. 
The boats killed cells with folic acid receptors more effectively than cells without them.  As these receptors are most numerous on cancer cells, the idea is that the novel concept may help target tumours in the body and spare more healthy cells.   The data was recently reported in the
Journal of the American Chemical Society and the idea can be seen graphically below:


Source: J. Am Chem Society

Another common cancer drug, paclitaxel (Taxol), has also been loaded onto longboats.  However, these were too big to squeeze through the pores in normal blood vessels, but small enough to get into
the vessels that feed tumours (Cancer Research).

Overall, one of the goals of nanotechnology with cancer drug development is to:

1) find ways of getting more drug into the tumour, thereby causing shrinkage and increasing efficacy

2) target the chemotherapy so that it is focused on cancer cells not normal cells, reducing toxicity and improving tolerability

With these new experimental approaches showing early promise, it is possible we may see them entering larger scale clinical trials in the not too distant future.
Dhar, S., Liu, Z., Thomale, J., Dai, H., & Lippard, S. (2008). Targeted Single-Wall Carbon Nanotube-Mediated Pt(IV) Prodrug Delivery Using Folate as a Homing Device Journal of the American Chemical Society, 130 (34), 11467-11476 DOI: 10.1021/ja803036e

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