In the realm of medical research, scientists and researchers have dedicated substantial efforts to combat the lethal disease of cancer, causing millions of deaths annually. A transformative breakthrough has emerged from a collaborative research initiative involving experts from Rice University, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas. Their groundbreaking discovery revolves around exploiting the exceptional trait of certain molecules to generate powerful vibrations under light stimulation, effectively eradicating cancer cells.
The researchers discovered that when a specific dye molecule used for medical imaging is exposed to near-infrared light, its atoms synchronize vibrations, forming what’s known as a plasmon. This phenomenon leads to the rupture of the cell membrane in cancerous cells. The study, as reported in Nature Chemistry, exhibited a striking 99% efficacy against lab-grown human melanoma cells. Remarkably, half of the mice with melanoma tumors treated with this method became cancer-free.
Rice chemist James Tour described this innovation as a novel generation of molecular machines termed “molecular jackhammers.” Previously, Tour’s lab employed nanoscale compounds featuring a light-triggered paddle-like atomic chain, rotating continuously in one direction to penetrate the outer membranes of infectious bacteria, cancer cells, and resistant fungi.
Distinct from nanoscale drills inspired by Nobel laureate Bernard Feringa’s molecular motors, molecular jackhammers operate through an entirely innovative mechanism. Tour emphasized their remarkable speed, surpassing former Feringa-type motors by over a millionfold in mechanical motion. Additionally, these molecular jackhammers respond to near-infrared light, a substantial advancement compared to visible light activation.
The significance of near-infrared light lies in its ability to penetrate deeper into the body without causing tissue damage. Tour highlighted its profound depth of penetration, reaching up to 10 centimeters within the human body, compared to visible light’s limited depth of half a centimeter, previously used to activate nanodrills.
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