Tiny tubes, about 10,000 times thinner than human hair, may zap cancer cells as well as deliver disease-fighting genes to healthy ones.

Researchers say that these tubes, made of rolled up sheets of carbon, may make them useful in delivering medication to cells and developing future cancer therapies.

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed that these carbon nanotubes can carry genes or drugs into cells to deliver targeted therapy.

In addition, researchers say carbon nanotubes, which can be absorbed by cells, can be turned into tiny infrared antennas and heaters within cells upon exposure to near-infrared light -- causing cell death.

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Tiny Tubes to Fight Cancer

In their first experiment, researchers combined these properties of nanotubes by loading the tubes with folate and shining infrared lasers on them to selectively kill cancer cells.

The cancer cells, which absorb excessive amounts of folate, took in the nanotube, and then the nanotubes were heated up to kill the cancer cells.

In another experiment, researchers tagged nanotubes with short genetic sequences that were absorbed into a cell's nucleus (center) after being activated by the laser.

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By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Kam, N. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences advance online edition, Aug. 1. 2005.