(CNN) -- Naomi Halas is the inventor of nanoshells, tiny glass particles coated in gold. She dreams of a world without cancer -- and she believes that they hold the key.
Naomi Halas, inventor of nanoshells, which may hold the key to curing cancer
Halas gained her M.A. and Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia. She joined Rice University in 1989 where she now heads their Nanoengineering Unit. For the past few years, her work has focused on nanoshells -- miniscule spheres of glass wrapped in a layer of gold.
When her team invented the nanoshells, they weren't initially sure what potential they held. "We said, 'Gee, what could it be good for?'" Halas told CNN. "After many suggestions, cancer therapy came out of an ongoing collaboration with a group of bioengineers looking at different types of biomedical applications."
Halas worked with her Rice colleague, bioengineer Jennifer West, and they found that they could inject nanoshells into mice with cancer and get the particles to accumulate around the tumor. When they shone a laser on the particles, the cancerous cells heated up and died, removing the tumor but leaving the surrounding cells intact. They saw that this non-invasive procedure had the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment as a non-toxic alternative to chemotherapy.
Following successful trials on rats, rabbits and mice, Halas and her team are testing nanoshells on large animals, with a view to taking them to clinical trials later on in 2007.
Naomi Halas is the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Professor of Chemistry and Bioengineering at Rice University in Texas. Professor Halas has received the "Cancer Innovator" award from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs of the U. S. Department of Defense. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.