• Exploring new ways to modify carbon nanotubes to improve their properties for medical imaging (CSIRO)

Modified carbon nanotubes for early cancer detection

Published as part of Australia and China Science and Technology Week at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.

Australian and Chinese scientists are exploring ways of modifying and using carbon nanotubes to improve medical imaging. The project brings together Chinese skills in making carbon nanotubes and Australian expertise in polymer chemistry.

“After modification, nanotubes have unique properties which allow them to be drawn into diseased tissue and be imaged at high resolution,” says Dr Xiaojuan Hao from CSIRO Material Science and Engineering Technologies, who began working on the project earlier this year with Professor Jieshan Qiu from Dalian University of Technology, Liaoning Province, and Dr Tim Hughes also from CSIRO.

“If the nanotubes can be seen at high resolution in the body, it makes it possible to detect smaller tumours, and that can potentially lead to earlier treatment for patients.”

“We plan to make nanotubes that contain metal ions, so they can be detected with magnetic resonance imaging or we can make them absorb infrared radiation, so they are detected with optical imaging,” says Dr Hughes. The Dalian researchers generate carbon nanotubes in the shapes and sizes required, introduce the metal ions and specially treat them to allow further modification.

The team in Australia then modify them to improve their properties for imaging. Sticking different polymers and biomolecules onto the nanotube surface, for instance, can make them more soluble and can improve their ability to infiltrate diseased tissue and be picked up by imaging techniques. The team also hopes to develop a drug delivery system in which modified carbon nanotubes can be used to administer drugs to specific disease targets.