Nanoshells are a new type of nanoparticle composed of a substance such as a silica core that is coated with an ultrathin metallic such as a gold layer. Nanoshells are about 1/20th the size of a red blood cell and are about the size of a virus or about 100 nanometers wide. They are ball-shaped and consist of a core of nonconducting glass that is covered by a metallic shell, typically either gold or silver.

Nanoshells are currently being investigated as a treatment for cancer similar to chemotherapy but without the toxic side effects. These nanoshells can be injected safely into the body as demonstrated in animal tests. Once in the body, the nanoshells are illuminated with a laser beam that gives off intense heat that destroys the tumor cells.

In preliminary testing, one research medical team is using nanoshells combined with lasers to kill oral cancer cells. Oral cancer is a cancerous tissue growth located in the mouth. Smoking and other tobacco use are associated with 70 percent to 80 percent of oral cancer cases. Approximately 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pha-ryngeal cancer each year. Human clinical trials using applications of nanoshells for cancer treatment will begin within a few years. However, nanoshells are already being developed for other applications. They include drug delivery and testing for proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease.

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