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Microcapsules target cancer cells

established way of producing transport containers for medicines, cosmetics, or nutrients, which can also pass through cell membranes. André Skirtach and his colleagues equipped the capsules with a kind of "open sesame".

But it didn't require any magic - just nanoparticles made of gold or silver atoms. The scientists mixed together charged metal nanoparticles along with the polymers composing the walls of the vesicle. The tumour cells absorbed the microcapsules and then the scientists aimed an infrared laser at them. Metal nanoparticles are particularly good at absorbing the laser light and transmitting the heat further into their surroundings, heating up the walls. They became so hot that the bonds broke between the polymers and the shell and the capsules eventually opened.

For the time being, the scientists have only been trying out their methods on isolated tumour cells. "In principle, however, active substances could be released into the body this way," says Helmuth M?hwald, director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, and one of the participating scientists.

This has to (do) with the fact that infrared laser light can penetrate at least one centimetre deep into the tissue. The cells of the body heat up negligibly because laser light at this wavelength is insignificantly absorbed in the tissue. It is the metal particles in the walls of the microcapsules only that absorb the light - even when the microcapsules are in a cell, because the laser affects only them.

Besides using a "thermal opener", the scientists have found another way of making the capsules more stable. They simply heat up the newly created microcapsules very slightly, so that the diameter of the hollow capsules becomes smaller. At the same time, the molecules in their shell are located closer to each other, thickening the capsule walls and better protecting their contents.

There is still, however, a major p
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