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More Precious Than Gold: A Cure for Cancer?

An advanced laboratory for an innovative cancer treatment using nano-particles of gold and laser beams made its debut last week at the Technion.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 11/15/2009, 5:08 PM / Last Update: 11/15/2009, 6:28 PM

The Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa has inaugurated an advanced laboratory for an innovative cancer treatment using nano-particles of gold, and laser beams.

The treatment is non-invasive, has no side effects and damages only the cancerous cell, without damaging the healthy cells that surround it.

The laboratory itself is located at the Laurie I. Lokey Interdisciplinary Center for Life Sciences and Engineering, which was built in 2006 with major support -- $30 million -- from philanthropist Lauri Lokey. 

The cutting-edge research has stimulated interest both locally and on the international front, winning additional grants of two million euros from the European Union and more than $1 million from the Israel Science Foundation. Millions of dollars were invested to equip the new laboratory dedicated last week, according to a statement released by the Center, headed by Nobel Laureate, Professor Aaron Ciechanover.

The multidisciplinary laboratory includes researchers from the fields of physics, optics, biology, engineering and biomedical nanotechnology, and is currently engaged in a number of innovative projects, all of which are linked to advanced diagnostics and medical treatment.

"We illuminate the tumor via an endoscopic laser-based miniature optical fiber," explained Dr. Dvir Yelin, a researcher at the center. "The laser has two parameters: one, it consists of very short pulses, at millions of billionths of a second that can break down the cell without heat; and two, the laser has a wavelength that precisely fits the resonant frequency of nano-particles, which makes it possible to highly increase the efficiency of the laser."

Under these conditions, the laser operates at a distance of nanometers --  (a millionth of a millimeter) from a nanoparticle, and creates sufficiently intense laser illumination to dismantle, through ionization, the material within the cancer cell, which then dies without damage to the surrounding healthy cells, he explained.

The treatment is somewhat related to an equally cutting-edge diagnostic test recently developed by a research group headed by Hossam Haick, also at the Technion, in which a breath test using an array of sensors based on gold nanoparticles is used to distinguish the breath of lung cancer patients from that of healthy individuals in an atmosphere of high humidity. The team is hoping to develop an inexpensive and non-invasive diagnostic test for lung cancer based on the study, which made headlines around the world after it was published this past August in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.