With one in three people expected to develop cancer during their lifetime, the challenge presented in treating the disease is now larger than ever. However, discoveries on a microscopic scale may yield important results for future therapeutics. A new technique using light, heat and ‘nanoshells’ (tiny gold-coated beads) is showing big potential in the fight against cancer.
The concept of nanoshells was first proposed by Naomi Halas and colleagues from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Houston, USA, in a 1998 issue of Chemical Physics Letters.  In it they describe tiny metallic structures they term nanoshells, measuring no more than a few hundred nanometres in width (10,000th of a centimetre). These nanoshells could be ‘designed’ to absorb specific bands of light energy, dependent on the thickness of their core and shell, and convert this energy into heat. [1,2] This heat energy can then be released into the nanoshell’s immediate surroundings, generating intense temperatures of over 40°C.