BOISE -- There is exciting research taking place at Boise State University, and it's garnering the attention of the National Institutes of Health.
"The research is at the beginning, but it's very promising," said Charles Hanna, chairman of BSU's Department of Physics.
Scientists at Boise State are researching what could be a new treatment in the fight against cancer. At the center of the research are nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are so small you can't see them with the naked eye. However, the results so far are big.
"They've been able to show that these nanoparticles are effective in killing cancer cells while still leaving ordinary, healthy human cells alive, and that's special," said Hanna.
Special, because Hanna says the nanoparticles can target the cancer cells much more effectively than traditional treatments such as chemotherapy, and without the side effects.
“That's really what you're after for cancer treatments because a common problem of cancer treatments is that they hurt normal body cells and tissues. And so you get the classical side effects that can result in toxicity,” said Denise Wingett, chair and professor of BSU's Department of Biological Sciences.
The idea for the research came from an unlikely source, Boise State's Department of Physics. Physicists don't typically study cancer research. Dr. Alex Punnoose was investigating nanoparticles for the use of nanotechnology and questioned whether they had any health applications. Punnoose took his questions to his colleagues in the Department of Biological Sciences.
"This was basically his brain child. We were very lucky in this case in that our first experiments were quite successful,“ said Wingett.
"Well, I think that the lesson is that if you have physics and you have biologists they're able to do things together that they wouldn't be able to do separately," said Hanna.
The collaboration between the two departments continues. Hanna says the physicists design and create nanoparticles that act as anti-cancer agents. The biologists analyze and study their effects on living systems. The physicists then take that information to design better nanoparticles.
"We're seeing more and more that the next level of research developments occur when there's such diversity in disciplines and that can lead to the next breakthrough," said Wingett.
A breakthrough in cancer treatment that may just occur on the campus of Boise State University.
The National Institutes of Health has given Boise State $220,000 in grant money to continue the research. Wingett says their next step will be to begin conducting their studies on animals. She says clinical trials are still years away.