If drugs can be made to target only tumour cells, it will be possible to offer chemotherapy without any unpleasant side effects. One way of doing so is to place the drugs in tiny capsules which are so small they can penetrate the walls of a blood vessel in order to reach the tumour sites in the body. The capsules would then have to be very small indeed: just one hundredth of the size of a red blood cell.
Researchers from the Physics of Fluids department are developing a new method of transporting drugs to the cells where they are needed. The department specializes in exploring the possible applications of microscopic bubbles, or 'nanocapsules', introduced into the bloodstream. To date, the capsules have been the size of a red blood cell. The researchers are now trying to produce even smaller versions. The new generation will be so tiny that they can pass through the wall of a blood vessel.
Gasified by ultrasound
The nanocapsules will be filled with one or more drugs and injected into the bloodstream. Being extremely small, they can penetrate the wall of the blood vessel and accumulate at the tumour site. A short burst of ultrasound (sound with a frequency of over 1 MegaHertz) will then evaporate the drugs into tiny bubbles of gas whereupon they can go to work on the tumour. The gas bubbles can be monitored on an echograph, which means that doctors can pinpoint the exact location and extent of the tumour.