Washington University's Younan Xia has been attracting considerable attention for his research work on microcapsules that can precisely deliver a drug payload right where it's needed.
Xia has been making microscopic gold 'nanocages,' tiny particles encased in polymer strands that collapse when exposed to heat. "But the really cool part," says Xia, "and the cool part of nanotechnology generally, is that the tiny gold cages have very different properties than bulk gold." In particular, they respond differently to light.
Using a near infrared light, the scientist can trigger a collapse at any point, leaving the tissue unharmed. Adjusting the light can recalibrate the release rate. And by designing the polymers to latch onto specific disease targets, such as a tumor, Xia believes he can concentrate the drug right where it's needed.