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Rights: The University of Waikato
Published 30 May 2008

Quantum dots are being developed to find and treat cancer cells. Dr Richard Tilley describes his research for The MacDiarmid Institute and the advantages over current methods.


Currently, if you want to try to look at a tumour or a cancer inside someone you can use MRI, and the resolution is maybe about an inch in size. But a lot of cancers can be very dangerous even if there is only a few cells of them. So with our research, what we want to do is take our quantum dots that emit light, bind on antibodies, then inject them into people. They can whiz around the body, and if there is a cancer cell there, they can bind onto the cancer cells, and because they emit light, we can then kind of monitor and see where the cancers are in people. So we can actually image cancer cells when they are far smaller than when they are actually a tumour. If we can attach drug molecules as well onto the surface of our quantum dots, we can inject them into people, they can bind to the cancer, they can actually deliver the drug, the cure, and we can actually – because of the light coming out of the quantum dot – we can monitor how the drug is being delivered to the cancer, and how it’s treating the cancer over time as well. This type of system, with a quantum dot with our antibody attached and also a drug molecule attached, is called a targeted drug delivery system, and that is what we are trying to design. And the big advantage is that currently a lot of cancer treatments just basically affect the whole body, and when you treat someone with a drug molecule, it’s basically a toxic molecule, it’s a poison, it’s killing cells. But if we can deliver our drug molecules directly to the cancer, we can actually have a higher concentration of drug molecules at the cancer, so that will improve curing the cancer, but also we can reduce all these terrible side effects that people have during cancer treatment as well.

Louise Goossens – Wellington School of Medicine
Prof. Kenji Yamamoto
Paulo Ramalho
Derek K. Miller
Dr Richard Watts, Van der Veer Institute