Tumbleweeds in the Bloodstream
Molecule-size sensors inside astronauts' cells could warn of health impacts from space radiation. (YubaNet.com)
- Wouldn't it be nice if the cells in your
body would simply tell you when you're starting to get sick, long
before symptoms appear? Or alert you when a tumor is growing, while
it's still microscopic and harmless?
The ability to detect changes inside of individual cells while those cells are still inside your body would be a boon to medicine. NASA-supported scientists are developing a technology right now that could, if it works, do exactly that.
The scientists don't actually coax the cells into talking, of course. The idea is to place "nanoparticles" inside the cells to function as molecule-size sensors. Whenever these sensors encounter certain signs of trouble -- a fragment of an invading virus perhaps -- they would begin to glow, signaling the outside world that something is wrong.
It's an elegant technology, and because it can be customized to target many combinations of specific cell types and specific problems, it's also a very potent one. Research on nanoparticles has blossomed in recent years, with scientists exploring how they can be used to treat everything from cancer to genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
NASA is interested in how this technology might help tackle another health issue: radiation exposure. More here
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