The detection and cure of cancer has become increasingly essential as a large number of people continue to succumb annually to this deadly disease. Treatment in the case of cancers poses a unique problem in terms of the high potential toxicity of many of the drugs currently being used in cancer therapy. Additionally, the fact that any method of killing cancerous cells also inevitably causes harm to normal, healthy cells and tissues further complicates the situation. Thus researchers have to find answers to some very crucial questions: First, can they reduce the effective dosage of the drug in question in order to reduce the magnitude of the damage to unwanted tissues? And second, can they control the release of the drug and or localize the drug to a specific set of cells within a tumour or in areas near it, thus preventing tissue damage? These are tough problems to tackle, especially when working with a complex system such as the human body. There is a limit to which one can reduce dosage, since one has to allow for loss of the drug through physiological processes within the body. Too low a dose might end up not really being efficacious. Localization however will end up solving both problems. If the drug can be localised, even relatively smaller doses can prove to be more efficient.

It was when I pondering over these problems that I came across some research carried out in the field of nanotechnology that was concerned with precisely the same problems. Researchers have come very close to solving the problem of localized and metered dosing of a drug within the body. This feat has been achieved by using gold nanocages. These cages are coated with a special type of “smart polymer” which can be induced to open or close using an external signal such as exposure to near-infrared light. These smart polymers are very apt for use in timed release of drugs.

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