They used a form of PEG with three little limbs sprouting off a central trunk. ''Those provide better shielding to the nanotube than just a single branch. Therefore, they interact less with the biological molecules around them,'' Dai said.
The team stuffed the PEG liberally into the linked hexagonal rings that compose the nanotubes, prompting Dai to describe the end result as resembling rolled-up chicken wire with feathers sticking out all over.
Though they may sound less than gorgeous visually, the feathery nanotubes turned in a beautiful performance in practical terms, Dai said. The coating of PEG made the nanotubes highly water soluble, which helped them to stay in the blood instead of being absorbed.
''They circulate in the blood for about 10 hours or so in mice, which seems to be a good length of time,'' Dai said.
The right chemical coating on nanotubes also can help ease them out of the mouse in a timely fashion, and the three-branched PEG was effective there, too.
Dai's earlier research demonstrated that nanotubes have promise for treating cancer with two different approaches. Once they have zeroed in on the target cells, shining light on the nanotubes causes them to generate heat, which can kill cancer cells. The other method is to rig the nanotubes to accumulate at targeted sites, where they can deliver medication from within the tubes.
''[Carbon nanotubes] seem to be promising for biomedical applications and for potentially treating cancer, either using drugs or using the physical properties,'' Dai said. ''This is the reason we carried out the study of the fate of nanotubes in mice. I think this is really a very fundamental issue.''
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|