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The approach is versatile. Baker has laden the dendrimers with molecules that glow under MRI scans, which can reveal the location of a cancer. And he can hook different targeting molecules and drugs to the dendrimers to treat a variety of tumors. He plans to begin human trials later this year, potentially on ovarian or head and neck cancer.

Mauro Ferrari, a professor of internal medicine, engineering, and materials science at Ohio State University, is hopeful about what Baker’s work could mean for cancer patients. “What Jim is doing is very important,” he says. “It is part of the second wave of approaches to targeted therapeutics, which I think will have tremendous acceleration of progress in the years to come.”

To hasten development of nano-based therapies, the NCI alliance has committed $144.3 million to nanotech-related projects, funding seven centers of excellence for cancer nanotechnology and 12 projects to develop diagnostics and treatments, including Baker’s.

Baker has already begun work on a modular system in which dendrimers adorned with different drugs, imaging agents, or cancer-targeting molecules could be “zipped together.” Ultimately, doctors might be able to create personalized combinations of nanomedicines by simply mixing the contents of vials of dendrimers.

Such a system is at least 10 years away from routine use, but Baker’s basic design could be approved for use in patients in as little as five years. That kind of rapid progress is a huge part of what excites doctors and researchers about nanotechnology’s medical potential. “It will completely revolutionize large branches of medicine,” says Ferrari.


Raoul Kopelman – Nanoparticles for cancer imaging and therapy
University of Michigan

Robert Langer – Nanoparticle drug delivery for prostate cancer

Charles Lieber – Nanowire devices for virus detection and cancer screening
Harvard University

Ralph Weissleder – Magnetic nano-particles for cancer imaging
Harvard University

Home page image courtesy of Bryan Christie Design.

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Kevin Bullis

Senior Editor, Energy

My reporting as MIT Technology Review’s senior editor for energy has taken me, among other places, to the oil-rich deserts of the Middle East and to China, where...
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