|Space and cancer agencies collaborate on nanoscale sensors|
Edward R. Winstead
December 7, 2001
he US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and has awarded seven researchers a total of $11 million to develop microscopic devices that detect, diagnose, and treat disease inside the human body. The project goal is to develop nanoscale (one-billionth of a meter) sensors that, once inside the body, recognize molecular changes associated with disease and relay sensory information to computers outside the body. These minimally invasive devices could enter the body as a pill or through a nasal spray or skin patch.
NASA is developing the technology in a partnership with the US National Cancer Institute, which is interested in sensors that can detect the first signs of a tumor. Genomic tools have revealed the molecular signatures of certain common cancers in recent years, but new tools are needed to turn this information into medically useful technologies. Perhaps the same sensor that monitors an astronaut's health during three years in space could also detect cancerous changes in patients at risk for the disease.
The two agencies have collaborated on more than 20 research projects in the past decade. A few years ago, cancer researchers used a NASA technology to study the growth of human prostrate and breast cancer tissues outside the body for extended periods of time. The NASA technology, called a bioreactor, was developed to grow human tissue in space.
After the new partnership was announced in April, the agencies received 53 research proposals. These were peer-reviewed by experts on nanoscale technologies, bioinformatics, molecular medicine, and related fields. The investigators whose projects were selected are listed here in alphabetical order:
Mark G. Allen, Ph.D.
Sanford Asher, Ph.D.
James R. Baker, Jr., Ph.D.
Stephen A. Boppart, M.D., Ph.D.
Donald W. Landry, M.D., Ph.D.
James F. Leary, Ph.D.
Timothy M. Swager, Ph.D.
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