February 28, 2014

MIT professor Paula Hammond is making amazing advances in cancer research with particles that are too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. Credit: liverpoolhls / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

We all know what a meter is - but what's a nanometer? Imagine that you took one of the hairs off your head and sliced it up - the long way - into 100,000 slices. Each of them would be a nanometer long. 

It sounds like anything that size would have to be pretty insignificant. But Paula Hammond – professor at MIT and nanotechnology researcher – says particles of that size can actually be used as powerful weapons against a formidable enemy: cancer.

Part of that is because of the nature of cancer itself. “As we learn more and more, we learn that cancer is something that is a very broad range of diseases and not just one,” Hammond says. “That makes it even more frustrating. We can understand how to treat one type of cancer, or one type of sub-cancer, and still struggle with many others,” she says.

Because of all the diverse strains of cancer, the future of treatment won’t be a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Instead, Hammond says the future lies in “personalized medicine” – treatment designed to fit each person’s needs and affliction. Nanotechnology can make that possible. 

 “Nanoparticles actually allow us to get directly to tumors in a way that is very difficult to do if we simply use injections,” Hammond explains. “It allows us to get to hard-to-reach cancers because these nanoparticles can travel through the bloodstream and can essentially be designed to seek and find those tumors.”

Hammond also talks to us about how she fell in love with chemistry, which led her to attend college at MIT in the early 1980s. As it turns out, MIT was a place of contradictions - a nerdy mecca where Hammond felt at home and a place where both minorities and women could be viewed with skepticism.

To hear more about Hammond’s life and amazing advances in nanotechnology – from targeting cancer cells to crafting painless vaccines – tune in to our full interview, above. 

Culture, Sci and Tech

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